Pets have long been seen as man’s best friend, whether dogs, cats, fish, or another animal. Pets are dependent on us to look after them, to provide them with a home, food, and love. But they also give us so much in return, providing important benefits for us too. Regardless of our age, the animals in our lives can often be the thing in the day that can change our mood for the better.
There is now increasing scientific acknowledgment that pets can be a significant help to our physical and mental health. Here are some ways our cute and cuddly cohabitants make a difference.
Having a pet around has been known to aid many mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, and ADHD. In a study conducted by the University of Manchester led by D. Helen Brooks, it was found that pets offer a sense of “ontological security” – the feeling of stability, continuity, and meaning in one’s life.
Stress and Anxiety
Pets reduce stress and anxiety levels, helping us relax and feel more positive about ourselves. Spending time with your pet produces endorphins, happy hormones that improve your mood and make you feel more positive.
It’s been found that even stroking pets can reduce stress. Researchers have found that people have a lower blood pressure when they pet a dog than when they interact with another person.
In a study published in Stress and Health, bringing in dogs for therapy sessions at the University of British Columbia decreased stress levels and improved student energy levels after contact with them.
Having an animal in your life has also been linked to decreases in depression. The RSPCA states that pet owners “report less depression and appear to cope with grief, stress and loss better than non-pet owners”.
In another study in America of elderly persons who had lost a spouse, owning a pet and a “strong attachment” to a pet, were linked to significantly less depression.
Children with ADHD can benefit from having pets around the house in multiple ways. Primarily, pets provide a way for those with ADHD to learn a routine and gain responsibility. Additionally, pets need to play, which can provide a good energy outlet for kids with ADHD, improving their concentration in the long term. The presence of a pet can also calm down those with ADHD, whilst improving children’s confidence and providing a faithful companion.
As well as mental health, having a pet can also boost your physical well-being. Dogs needs to get out of the house, into fresh air, and towards green spaces, meaning that you will have to, too.
Even playing with a dog or cat indoors can provide a form of physical exercise, loosening up joints and getting your heart rate up.
Besides providing a reason to get some outdoor (or indoor) exercise, pets also have other physical benefits for the body. They promote increased cardiovascular health, strengthen the immune system, and help with resistance to allergies.
Socializing and loneliness
Another benefit of looking after animals is that they can increase our social interaction with friends, family, and even people we’ve never met before. This can be important for older people who find it more difficult to get out and meet new people.
Animals can foster a personal sense of integration into society and the local community. In a study of over 800 people, it was found that frequent dog walkers were more likely to report feeling a heightened sense of community, compared to those not owning a dog.
Pets even improve socializing just by being the subject of conversation. As around 50% of households in the UK have a pet, a pet can be a subject you have in common, breaking the ice and providing a starting point to get to know someone better. Indeed, a study found that the presence of a dog on a walk in the park increases both the length and number of conversations held with others.
As well as improving socializing, pets are also an important way to combat loneliness. Pets can reduce feelings of isolation and provide a source of warmth and companionship just through physical contact with us. Pets are often there for you when other people aren’t or can’t be, and can be valuable and unconditional company for those feeling lonely or living alone.
Responsibility, purpose, and empathy
Many of us have heard the phrase “a dog is for life, not just for Christmas”. And it is true – when you get a pet, they become your responsibility to look after, care for and love. This does not have to be a downside of owning a pet. Having a pet provides owners with a motivating reason to get out of bed and out of the house, and to perform daily tasks.
This sense of purpose can be beneficial to those who struggle with keeping a daily routine. For kids, this responsibility is also a good way for them to learn early on what it means to look after and care for another being. In taking care of a pet, this often provides us with the motivation to take care of ourselves.
One final word…
If you are thinking of getting a pet, be sure you have the means to take care of them, and have done the research to ensure you can take on the commitment.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: Labrador puppy and his owner. Featured Photo Credit: Piqsels