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There is no denying that recent events – from the bushfires of early 2020 to the all-consuming global pandemic – have impacted the mental health of many people. The isolation and uncertainty has been extreme as people have grappled with extended periods at home alone, often separated from extended family.
It seems that one way we have dealt with this as a nation is to welcome a new family member into the home in the form of a new pet. Given the connections between pets and our physical and mental health – plus the extra time people have spent homebound this year – it’s not surprising.
In fact, pet ownership is good for us and our furry friends. The lifelong bonds formed can have increased lifespan and the management of long-term mental illness. Here are just three key ways that pets may benefit our mental health.
Pet owners will often tell you that hugging a dog, stroking a cat and even watching fish in the aquarium, can all help reduce stress levels.
One aspect of this relates to human touch. Many people feel an improved sense of mood when they hug – and stroking a pet can have the same affect. One study of college students in the United States, found that just ten minutes interaction with a dog or cat could have stress-relieving physiological benefits.
Dogs and cats provide companionship – especially crucial this year with so many people isolated via COVID-19 – and nonjudgmental, unconditional love and acceptance, all beneficial to help reduce anxiety and enhance feelings of positivity.
According to the Australian Government’s Health Direct website, the benefits of regular exercise include reduced stress levels and symptoms of depression and anxiety. It can also help improve our sleep which has multiple add-on health benefits.
Dogs can help us get out and exercise regularly. One or two daily dog walks are essential to help your pet maintain a healthy weight, and they give you the chance to improve your own fitness.
Pets can also help us improve social connections, another requirement for positive mental health, via regular interaction with other dog owners on walks, at dog parks or at the vet.
People suffering mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, may experience a lack of purpose. Dogs, cats and other pets can be exceptionally good at helping us focus – on today and looking forward to the future.
On a practical level, most pets need a routine of feeding, exercise, cleaning and regular vet care including vaccinations and annual health checks. When you become a pet owner, you become a primary carer, and responsible for all the obligations that entails.
Responsibility for others may be a great way to boost self-esteem, and provide a long term sense of purpose in our daily lives.
As an animal lover you likely don’t need a scientific study to be aware of the many benefits that dogs, cats and other animals can bring us. If you’re considering becoming a pet owner, it’s crucial that you look at the big picture however.
Pet ownership is a lifelong commitment. You need to consider if you are willing to look after a pet from now until their geriatric years, what you will do while you’re at work or on holidays, if you can afford ongoing mobile vet care, and if you can realistically give them the exercise and companionship that they need – because the mental and physical health of your pet is also imperative.
At VETaround, we love building ongoing relationships with our clients so we can look after your animals for many years.