The Mental Health Organisation in the United Kingdom (UK) had conducted research on the benefits of owning a pet and had now proved what animal lovers had always known – pets are good for humans.
Scientists had found that the companionship a pet offers reduces anxiety and stress and could be a great source of comfort, companionship and motivation for their owners. In many ways, pets could help us to live mentally healthier lives. And never had it become more pronounced than during lockdown when many people across the globe only had their pets for companionship.
Pets, especially dogs and cats, can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and playfulness and even improve cardiovascular health. Caring for an animal can help children grow up more secure and active. Pets also provide valuable companionship for older adults.
Pets and depression
Pets are also a great motivator for people. Dogs especially are great at encouraging owners to get exercise and this can be beneficial for those suffering from depression. They could also have calming effects on their owner. Just by stroking, sitting next to or playing with a pet could provide an owner with a chance to relax and calm their minds. Caring for a pet gives your day purpose and reward and a sense of achievement and makes people feel valuable and needed.
Pets and socialising
Walking a dog often leads to conversations with other dog owners and helps owners to stay socially connected and less withdrawn. People who have more social relationships and friendships tend to be mentally healthier. However, this had become a problem during COVID-19 with people tending to avoid each other, social distancing and lockdown measures.
Pets and loneliness
For people who live alone, they provide owners with much needed company, a sense of security and someone to share the routine of the day with. Pets can be especially valuable company for the elderly.
Pets and people in later life
Older people experiencing age-related stresses can be comforted by a companion pet. It is thought that a dog can be a stress buffer softening the effects of adverse events on a person. With an animal in the home, people with Alzheimer's are thought to have fewer anxious outbursts.
Pets and children with Attention Deficit Syndrome (ADHD)
Children with ADHD can benefit from working with and keeping a pet. Taking charge of a pet care schedule such as feeding, walking and bathing, helps a child learn to plan and be responsible.
Pets need to play, and playing with a pet is a great way to release excess energy. Your child can burn off energy walking a dog or running around with a kitten, making them more relaxed later in the day and calmer at night. Fresh air and good circulation from aerobic exercise increases oxygen-filled blood flow to a child's brain, therefore increasing their ability to concentrate.
Children with ADHD are used to their parents trying to calm them down or reprimanding them. A pet is a great listener and offers unconditional love and will not criticize a child for having too much energy. This can aid a child's self-confidence.
Pets and Autism
Sensory issues are common among children with autism. Sensory integration activities are designed to assist them in getting used to the way something feels against their skin, how it smells or sounds. Dogs and horses have both been used for this purpose. Children with autism often find it calming to work with animals.
It has been claimed that in the case of people with autism, animals can reduce stereotyped behaviour, lessen sensory sensitivity and increase the desire and ability to connect socially with others. Further research into this area needs to be carried out however.
The Mental Health Organisation carried out a study with Cats involving more than 600 cat- and non-cat-owning respondents, with half of them describing themselves as currently having a mental health problem. The survey found that 87% of people who owned a cat felt it had a positive impact on their wellbeing, while 76% said they could cope with everyday life much better thanks to the company of their feline friends.
Half of the cat owners felt that their cat's presence and companionship was most helpful, followed by a third of respondents who described stroking a cat as a calming and helpful activity.