I had never heard of National Pet Month until recently, but I think it’s an amazing cause!
It’s not just another trend, it’s actually a charity that has been running for the last 30 years in order to promote responsible ownership and celebrate the benefits of our pets.
Why did you get a pet? Usually the answer is because they’re fun and we want to look after them. But did you know they also come with some undeniable health benefits?
Not only do we look after them, but they look after us. Pets, specifically dogs and cats, encourage physical exercise and social interaction, but can also reduce stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness. Pets have the ability to bring happiness, joy and playfulness into your home, as well as companionship for the elderly, help children learn compassion and responsibility and provide friendship to everyone.
Depression, anxiety and stress
It’s pretty obvious the immediate joy having a pet can bring. You only have to look at someone when their pet walks into the room and you can see just how much their face lights up (both the human and the pet!)
Scientists have been studying the benefits between humans and animals and studies have shown that pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression and stress than those without pets. Scientists have said that some of the health benefits of pets include:
- Can lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels
- Can increase dopamine (commonly associated with the brain’s pleasure and reward system) and serotonin (aka the happy chemical)
These results have come about after many studies, some with the elderly, heart attack patients and even hardened criminals. All have had the same, overwhelming results.
- People over the age of 65 with pets have shown to visit the doctors less.
- People who have had a heart attack and own a pet survive longer.
All these studies have very similar outcomes, over and over again and it’s all to do with touch and companionship. Dogs and cats especially are great at reading human emotions and can provide the kind of companionship you need. Touching, stroking and hugging animals can immediately decrease stress and anxiety with their theraputic effect.
Reducing stress and anxiety is a bold statement, but scientists keep discovering the same results. When you’re stressed, anxious or even depressed, you tend you have a really negative self image. Pets can actually increase moral and your sense of self worth, all this is again linked with touch, companionship as well as the happiness and laughter they bring.
It’s surprising to know that in today’s day and age, with technology and social media connecting us more than ever, that we are experiencing a huge problem with loneliness. Being lonely isn’t about not having anyone in your life – it’s a lot more than that. You can be surrounded by people and still feel lonely. It’s a real, growing problem in society potentially leading to depression and suicide, but the problem is underestimated by many people.
Having a pet has proved detrimental to helping people who suffer with loneliness. Having a pet provides companionship, responsibility, someone to care for, a reason to get up in the morning and to go outside. As well as providing companionship, animals have the ability to provide unconditional love and joy, as well as read your body language and emotions and be there for you. You can talk to animals, snuggle with animals and go outside with animals. All of which are great for mental health, and those in isolation.
Caring for a pet gives us a sense of meaning and fulfilment.
Help you meet new people
Having a pet gives you something to talk about and find like minded people at work, in social groups or in pet shops or classes. Specifically, if you have a dog, going out for walks will get you talking to other dog owners and as a result, help you start new friendships and continually met new people. It also provides you with a reason to get out and about more and explore new places, which means, meeting more people. I know from experience the majority of other dog owners I come across, regardless of where I am walking, are always so friendly.
Pets are a great conversation starter and have the ability to bring people and communities together. Meeting new people increases your sense of belonging, boosts happiness and self-confidence.
Increase movement and exercise
Having a pet, specifically a dog, is a much more fun way to exercise. Dogs require regular exercise and, as a responsible dog owner, you meet those requirements. Not only is it great to see how happy your dog is when they’re outside playing, but it also means you are meeting your daily exercise requirements, as well as getting fresh air.
You don’t need to force your self to workout or put your body through anything exhausting, it just becomes apart of your routine. According to Harvard Health Publications, several studies have shown that another health benefit of having pets is the weight you can lose, due to regular and consistent exercise.
Going for regular walks can do wonders for your health, mentally and physically. It improves your mood, sleep quality and reduces fatigue, stress and anxiety.
Help adults with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia
Many studies, including some at the University of California, David have shown that people who suffer with Alzheimer’s have fewer anxious outbursts and suffer less stress if they own a dog or a cat. Other studies have suggested playful interaction and just the touch of an animal at home is a positive source of communication and can help decrease aggressive behaviour.
Good lessons for children
Growing up with a pet can have many benefits. Pets are playful and loving, which can provide children with compassion and empathy, as well as feeling loved and secure. Having a pet can give children a sense of responsibility and make them feel important, helping them with their self-image and confidence. Children also become emotionally attached to pets, which can help reduce anxiety, as well as help them build relationships with people.
A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that having a pet dog can help children with anxiety. In a study of 643 children, half of them had a pet dog. BMI, anxiety, screen time and activity was measured by researchers and results were all similar, apart from anxiety. 21% of the children who participated in the study who did not have a pet dog tested positive on the anxiety screening.
Live in the moment
Animals are a great examples of living in the moment. Inspiring, actually. Pets run around, care free, not worrying about the past or the future, only what’s happening right now.
This is something, as humans, we struggle to live by. Honestly, the only time we really have is now. The past and the future do not actually exist, only in our minds. This means that our pets can teach us some valuable lessons; how to live more mindfully.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, “Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to the present moment, using techniques like meditation, breathing and yoga. It helps us become more aware of our thoughts and feelings so that, instead of being overwhelmed by them, we’re better able to manage them.”
Build healthy habits and stable routines
As mentioned above, pets need taking care of. This includes being fed and walked. This means that we create healthy habits by getting us up in the morning (and giving us something to live for), regularly go for walks, spend time in nature and supporting our self care and wellbeing.
Make us feel loved
It’s undeniable the love pets have for their owners. It’s clear just in the way they treat you that they love you unconditionally. You feed them, provide a roof their head and are their best friend. And they are yours too. Pets don’t judge you, care about what you look like or what job you have, all they care about is you being in their life.
Pets showing us unconditional love can help our self-confidence and sense of self worth. Feeling loved can really provide us with a sense of belonging as well releasing oxytocin, the loving, feel-good hormone.
There are just so many positive health benefits of having pets in your life. It will not be a decision you regret, anyone can promise that! Just remember, if you do get a pet, they are for life and do require responsibility, care and attention.
How does having a pet, or being around animals make you feel?