August 2018: Vet's Advice
The healing power of pets
Owning a pet can bring a lot of pleasure. A furry friend requires feeding, exercising and attention but in return they provide us with companionship and unconditional love. However, they are also good for our health; physically and mentally.
A big part of being a dog owner, involves taking your dog out for walks. This is not only good exercise for your dog but also for you! Walking your dog gives you a reason to be out and part of the community. This means you are more likely to socialise and meet new people. They help you connect with others because they provide an acceptable reason for somebody to start up a conversation with you.
The process of petting, stroking and talking to your dog or cat can help lower blood pressure, increase oxytocin levels and reduce stress. In a study, a person was asked to do a simple task in front of a friend and then in front of an animal. They performed better and were more relaxed in front of the animal because they were feeling at ease and not judged. A pet can also help children, who struggle with learning difficulties or anxiety, by giving them confidence and comfort. A lot of the research has been with dogs and cats but there has been a study that showed that just holding a tortoise reduced stress levels. So that is why there is a fish tank in the dentist’s waiting room!
Pet ownership can also help people struggling with feelings of loneliness, depression or grief. They provide structure to your day and give you a sense of meaning. The Cats Protection ran a study with cat owners (half of whom described themselves as suffering from some sort of mental health problem). The survey found that 87% of people felt the cat had a positive impact on their wellbeing. But pet therapy isn’t new. Florence Nightingale was a promoter of a canary at the bedside of chronically ill patients! She would encourage the patient to feed it and clean its cage. Now animal assistance therapy is offered at hospitals, nursing homes and, even at university, for students who are revising!
It is a big decision to get a pet. You must carefully consider your lifestyle because all pets are different; for one person it might be a hamster and for another it might be a Great Dane! If you do not or cannot own your own dog or cat then talk to your local dogs home, visit a cat café or you could have a look at websites such as Borrow My Doggy.