Having pets offers so many health benefits, alleviating stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, getting fit and so much more…
One in four people will struggle with mental health at some point in their lives. And with the coronavirus pandemic and troubled economy, many are in crisis right now. Your mental health couldn’t be more important…
Pets are far more intelligent than we give them credit for… The first thing that I want to make clear here is that pets are for life and it is an investment. Before you go out and buy a pet, ensure that you can afford to have one and will be there for them…
There is something about having a pet, that comes with such powerful health and healing benefits- how caring for an animal can really impact one’s health positively by reducing levels of anxiety, stress, depression and brings about overall better physical health too. Not only that, caring for an animal can really help children grow up more secure, empathetic and active. Pets also provide valuable companionship for older adults.
Take a moment
If you have a pet or had a pet, stop and reflect on what that means to you and the impact it has on you when you are having a bad day. Yes, there are moments when pets can drive you insane but, in the end, it is all worth it.
What are the benefits?
It’s only recently over the past 10 years where more studies are being done to scientifically explore and prove the benefits of the human-animal bond. The human–animal bond is a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals. These are influenced by behaviours that are essential to the wellbeing of both. This includes, among other things, emotional, psychological, and physical interactions of people, animals, and the environment. Here is an example of how the human-animal boas impacted an abused child.nd h
If you were to ask most pet owners, without a doubt, they are very clear about the immediate joy and satisfaction that comes with having and sharing their lives with an animal – the importance of having companionship. However, many of us remain unaware of the real physical and mental health benefits that can also accompany the pleasure of simply snuggling up to a furry friend.
I have always grown up with animals in my home from birds, parrots, cats, dogs, hamsters, rabbits, doves, chickens, you name it and I probably had it. I was even once given a monkey and a lion cub. Yes, believe it or not. Of course, unfortunately, the cub and monkey were unable to become part of the family…
Pets have evolved to become acutely attuned to humans and our behaviours and emotions and continue to do so. For example, dogs, are able to understand many of the words we use, but they’re even better at interpreting our tone of voice, body language, and gestures. Not only that but cats have to. How incredible is that?
There have been times where dogs have been known to save human life in serious situations and encounters. And like any good human friend, a loyal dog will look into your eyes to gauge your emotional state and try to understand what you’re thinking and feeling and especially when it comes to working out when their next walk or treat might be. Let me ask you when was the last time you truly looked deep into the eyes of your pet to understand what is going on? Animals are also receptible and affected by mental health and wellbeing in so many ways that we still do not entirely grasp the concept.
Pets, especially cats, dogs and horses (if affordable), can reduce a huge amount of stress, anxiety, and depression, ease loneliness, encourage a healthier lifestyle through exercise and playfulness, and even to the point of improving your cardiovascular health. If you have children, having and caring for an animal can help children grow up more secure, empathetic and active. (Agree that having pets and children together can be somewhat a handful but it’s worth it). Pets provide something so valuable. A true companionship for all that adds joy and gives you that unconditional love to your life.
Here’s what some pet owners had to say:
Zeenat they get me out and walking, discovering new beautiful places, they make me smile watching them running around investigating, watching Ellie’s wiggle bum and the smile on Barney’s face when he’s running, puts a smile on my face no matter how sad or stressed I am.
Without Kali Kit I would’ve gone bonkers.. my loneliness levels would’ve been sky high and the need for touch (which has been immense as it is) unbearable. There were times when she’d rest her paws on my arm or stroke my cheek that would bring tears.
My mum says it best .. when you live on your own it gives you another heartbeat in the house. Also means you can talk to yourself without feeling too insane!
I consider my cat to be a mental health and laughter coach 😉
One of the things I love about our dog Mika (though she is not with me at the moment ) is that she lives in the moment. When I tune in with her I’m also in the moment. The other thing is playing with her, as adults, we forget to play sometimes, and I become a little bit like a child when I roll with her on the floor! She cracks me up – every day she does something hysterical.
during this last year one of the main things that have made me smile has been the antics of my two kittens bramble and Willow they are so fun to watch as they explore and play and seeing them grow. They have calmed me down in times of stress made zoom meetings more fun by their appearance on screen and brought the family together as we all took turns to try and win their affections- they also helped my daughters relax as you have been calm if you have a purring cat on your bed/ lap You can’t underestimate the joy that pets bring into your life, they provide company (my mum got one after my dad died and she adores her) and they always listen and never criticise…
It’s literally impossible to not a crack smile when Lady gives you a little look or wags her tail when she’s on walkies! Even when I’m sat crying my eyes out, overwhelmed with Uni work or whatever it may be! Lady’s little feet will patter along the floor to come to see me and it’s like for a second you forget why you’re sad because animals are just so pure and loving
Ralph saved me !!
He really did he’s a miracle, without him I would still be at rock bottom stuck there but with him there he’s kept me on my feet and put me back into a routine, I was at my lowest point in life until this bundle of joy came along.
It’s really amazing what pets can do to you mentally, he doesn’t know it but he’s made me who I am today x
How does pet companionship impact overall health and help with making healthier lifestyle changes?
I believe that people with pets often experience the greatest health benefits. As mentioned earlier, a pet doesn’t necessarily have to be a cat or a dog. Even having an aquarium has immense benefits in watching fish, which can help calm nerves, reduce muscle tension and lower pulse rate. My parents have an African Grey called ‘Bubbly,’ she brings them so much joy, entertainment and calmness but also, they are able to have conversations with her, thus reducing the feeling of loneliness.
Studies have shown:
- Pets have supported people who have experienced trauma.
- Playing with animals can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.
- Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression, stress, anxiety and panic attacks than those without pets.
- People with pets are more likely to have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets. One study even found that when people with borderline hypertension adopted dogs from a shelter, their blood pressure declined significantly within five months.
- Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (indicators of heart disease) than those without pets.
- Heart attack patients with pets survive longer than those without.
- Pet owners over age 65 make 30 per cent fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets.
- Pets have shown to reduce the levels of loneliness, especially with older adults and pensioners, even when a loved one has been lost.
- Therapy dogs are being used more and more within hospitals and clinics as it helps with anxious children with confidence but also dogs really help people suffering from debilitating mental and physical health conditions and illnesses such as Autism, Dementia and Stroke
One of the reasons for these therapeutic effects is that pets fulfil the basic human need for touch. Believe it or not, even hardened criminals in prison show long-term changes in their behaviour after interacting with pets, many of them experiencing mutual affection for the first time.
By, stroking, hugging, or otherwise touching a loving animal can rapidly calm and soothe emotions and distract one from negative thoughts. The companionship of a pet to emphasise again really supports the ease of loneliness, and most dogs are a great stimulus for healthy exercise, which can substantially boost your mood and ease mental illnesses. Providing sensory stress relief through touch and movement are two really healthy ways to quickly manage your stress levels. Stroking a dog, cat, or other animals can lower blood pressure and help you quickly feel calmer and less stressed.
Making a healthy lifestyle change
More now than ever, the pandemic, COVID19 has brought to light even more so how vital it is to create and have a healthier lifestyle and the importance it plays on everyone mental wellbeing. There is no doubt at all that many may, at some point suffer from a degree of mental health in their lives (at different degrees).
Lifestyle has so much also to do with keeping levels of stress at bay. By adopting healthy lifestyle changes will play an important role in easing symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, bipolar disorder, and PTSD. Caring for a pet can help you make healthy lifestyle changes.
However, I have been talking to many pet owners and from my own experiences, it’s important to remember that pets too can have their challenges in looking after them. So, it is important to do your research, look at your living situation and checking that can you afford to look after your pet and dedicate the time that is needed in order to care for them. There is no point in having a pet if you are not there to enjoy them and vice versa. Pets need interaction and comfort too.
You have already heard some statements from pet owners in how they feel that pets impact their mental wellbeing and so here are some more benefits in why you may invest in having a pet:
Provides companionship. Companionship can help prevent a range of illness and even add years to your life, while isolation and loneliness can trigger symptoms of depression. Caring for a live animal can help make you feel needed and wanted, and take the focus away from your problems, especially if you live alone. Most dog and cat owners talk to their pets, some even use them to work through their troubles. Some will even take their cats, rabbits etc for a walk. And nothing beats loneliness like coming home to a wagging tail or purring cat that snuggles up to you or curls round and round your legs.
Helps social interaction with meeting new people. Dog owners especially, frequently stop to talk to each other on walks, hikes, or in a dog park. Pets are great social lubricant for their owners, helping you start and maintain and build new friendships. Pet owners also meet new people in pet stores, clubs, and training classes. There are so many opportunities for social interaction which is also vital for human connection.
Reduces anxiety and stress levels. We know first-hand how the c companionship of an animal can offer comfort, help ease anxiety, and build self-confidence for people for many different reasons. Pets live in the moment; they don’t worry about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow. And because of that animals can help you to become more mindful and appreciate the wonders and beauties of the present.
Increases your exercise. Studies have shown that dog owners are far more likely to meet their daily exercise requirements and exercising every day is great and needed for the animal as well. They too need to maintain fit and healthy, mentally and physically. Taking a dog for a walk, hike, or run are fun is such a rewarding way to sustain daily exercise into your schedule. Furthermore, it will deepen the connection between you- also for example if you have a dog, it will help eradicate most behaviour problems in dogs, keeping your pet at its best.
Enables structure and routine to your day. We all need structure and routine in order to be productive. Having pets, especially dogs, is a great way to ensure routine. It requires regular feeding and exercise schedule. Even when we are not feeling great, it still needs to be done ad can still have positive effects on our own wellbeing. By, having a consistent routine keeps not only you but your pet balanced and calm. No matter the mood you are in, fed-up, stressed, anxious or depressed – just one simple plaintive look from your pet you’ll crumble with love and no doubt you will have to jump out of bed to care for them.
Reminder, pets may not be for everyone, but you could possibly borrow a friend’s dog or alternatively, find others means of reducing stress and anxiety. There are so many inexpensive tools and strategies out there. And if unsure, then speak with a professional for support and guidance.
Benefits for pensioners
As well as providing vital companionship, owning a pet can play an important role in healthy aging by helping you to:
Find meaning and joy in life. As you age and retire, you begin to lose things that previously kept you occupied and gave your life purpose. By taking on caring for a pet it can bring so much pleasure and boost morale, optimism, and a sense of self-worth which is often easily dissipated as we get older. Choosing to adopt a pet especially from a shelter, and perhaps an older pet can really complement your sense of fulfillment.
Staying connected. Maintaining a social network and connection becomes harder as you age, and it isn’t always easy. Factors such as retirement, illness, death, and relocation can take away close friends and family members. And believe it or not, making new friends can become challenging for many. Research shows that pets, especially dogs, have been a great way are a great way spark up conversations and opens them up to opportunities to meet new people.
Boosts your vivacity. Especially, cats and dogs, they encourage elders to keep their playfulness, laughter and stay mobile by exercise, which absolutely helps in boosting the immune system and increases energy levels but also mental fitness. Simply, by taking good care of yourself you can overcome many physical challenges associated with ageing.
Research shows how having pets can and has helped adults suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia
As part of the disease, Alzheimer’s patients may exhibit a variety of behavioural problems, many related to an inability to deal with stress.
- Pets can provide a source of positive, nonverbal communication. The playful interaction and gentle touch from a well-trained, docile animal can help soothe an Alzheimer’s patient and decrease aggressive behaviours and outburst.
- Alzheimer’s patients have known to suffer less stress and have fewer anxious outbursts if there is a dog or cat in the home. As well as simply being exposed to bright aquariums or fish tanks.
Benefits for children
There is so much learning and growth that can happen when children have pets. Children learn responsibility, compassion, and empathy from having a pet. There is also some evidence that shows that when children grow up with pets they are less risk likely to have allergies and asthma.
Think back to the time that you had your first pet and what you learnt from having an animal. I grew up with so many different animals and it has taught me how to be more compassionate, caring, responsible and empathise.
Here are some reason as to why you may invest in a pet for your children:
- Studies have shown how pets help to calm hyperactive or overly aggressive children.
- Having the love and companionship of a pet can help them develop a positive self-image and important.
- Children who are emotionally attached to their pets are better able to build relationships with other people and understand the importance of empathy.
- Pets can help provide a sense of security for children. Having an ever-present pet can help ease separation anxiety in children when mom and dad aren’t around.
- Having a hamster, rabbit, or guinea pig is a great way to teach your child responsibility. These pets are easy to care for pets which makes them ideal for young children to start out with.
- Playing with a pet is a great source for learning. It can stimulate a child’s imagination and curiosity.
Having a pet in the family also helps to develop stronger relationships and bonds with the parent and child. Pets provide a source of calmness and relaxation, as well as a source of stimulation for the brain and body.
Think back to a time when you taught your pet to do something or a trick and how that felt? For example, the rewards of training a dog to perform a new trick, can teach children the importance of perseverance
Benefits for children with learning disorders and other challenges
Some children with autism or other learning difficulties are better able to interact with pets than people. Autistic children often rely on nonverbal cues to communicate, just as animals do. And learning to first connect with a pet may even help autistic child in their interactions with people.
- Pets can help children with learning disabilities learn how to regulate stress and calm themselves, making them better equipped to overcome the challenges of their disorder.
- Playing and exercising with a dog or cat can help a child with learning disorders stay alert and attentive throughout the day. It can also be a great antidote to stress and frustration caused by the learning disability.
Finding the perfect pet
If you’ve decided that owning a pet is right for you, congratulations: you’re about to open your life to a unique and rewarding relationship. While people who have pets tend to be happier, more independent, and feel more secure it’s important to choose the right type of pet that suits your needs and lifestyle.
Here are some things to consider when looking for the perfect pet:
- Where do you live? This will greatly determine the size of the animal best suited to your home. For instance, a rabbit or cat may be more suitable in an apartment than a dog.
- What’s your lifestyle? Work schedule? If those responsible for caring for the animal are gone most of the day, either at school or work, you may want an animal that doesn’t need constant attention, such as a reptile or fish.
- Who do you live with? Small children or an elderly relative could be knocked over by a large dog, for example, making a cat or rabbit a safer option.
- How big is your backyard? Large dog breeds, for example, often require more space to run around in and play.
- Do you travel a lot? If you tend to be on the road for work or play, then you’ll want a pet that can be left alone for long periods or easily looked after by a friend or neighbour. Fish or a reptile may be more suitable than a dog or cat.
- How much shedding can you tolerate? If you hate hair, then make sure to look into the breed of animal, because some animals’ hair can get everywhere. The good news is there are many different dog and cat breeds that have minimal shedding. There are also pets that don’t shed at all, like an iguana or a snake (well, at least not hair).
- Ultimately, when choosing a pet, you must be honest with yourself about the lifestyle you’d like to keep and the kind of pet you’d like to care for. If you’re in doubt about caring for a larger animal, then start small, get a fish or a smaller mammal. See how it fits and go from there.
Alternative pet solutions and the benefits:
The health benefits of pets are not limited to just cats and dogs. If you’re thinking of getting a household pet, here are some less common options:
Fish. In many doctors’ or dentists’ offices, care homes, or other medical facilities you will often find fish tanks and there is good reason for this. Watching fish can be very therapeutic and calming and have been scientifically proven to reduce stress and lower your heart rate.
Birds. Owning a bird means you can enjoy all the love without having to deal with the grief that comes with losing your pet. Birds tend to have very long lifespans; some parrot species can even outlive humans. Birds encourage social interaction, which can be beneficial if you live alone, or are elderly and want to keep your mind sharp. Talking and teaching tricks to your bird can promote healthy cognitive function. My parents have an African Grey, and they absolutely love her and have kept them entertained, especially through the COVID Pandemic.
Rabbits. Another alternative for those who are allergic to dogs or cats is a bunny rabbit. A rabbit can be an exceptional family pet, not as high maintenance as dogs or cats, but with lots of energy and personality. They don’t require a lot of space—a minimum of 4 x 4 feet of living space with the opportunity to roam wider each day. If you live in an apartment, a rabbit could be the perfect option. Owning a rabbit can help reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and increase serotonin (“happy hormone”) levels in your brain. Petting or snuggling a furry friend can also help lower blood pressure.
Reptiles. You may think that reptiles seem cold, but studies show that lizards and snakes can grow attached to their owners, recognizing those who care, handle, and feed them. Some may even ask to be petted by raising their necks up. A reptilian companion might also appeal to those who have an allergy to furry pets or find their exotic, unusual beauty attractive.