Jac's Top 5: How having a pet can benefit your health

Animal health company, Zoetis South Africa, has released five ways our pets make us feel happier and healthier. 

Pet and owners
Pet and owners /iStock

Ask any pet owner if their fur babies improve their mental health and positively contribute to their well-being, and you’ll hear a resounding yes. However, this isn’t just the opinion of animal lovers. Studies show that your dog, cat, bird, guinea pig, hamster or any other pet are key to keeping you (and your family) healthy and happy. 

“Over the years, we’ve seen the companion animal side of our business grow exponentially as pet owners invest more in the health of their pets through vaccines, diagnostics, and medication, but it’s a reciprocal relationship,” says Tarryn Dent, Business Unit Lead: Companion Animals at Zoetis South Africa, a global animal health company. “Owners want their pets to live longer and remain healthy because pets play such a big role in the happiness of everyone in the household.” 

To celebrate pet appreciation week, here are five ways that pets support our mental health. 

READ: Pet rats are loved in homes in the United Kingdom, how does that make you feel?

1. Pets can help improve stress and anxiety

Anxiety, stress and depression can all be alleviated through regular play time with pets. Research has shown that playing with a pet releases higher levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain – the ‘happy chemicals’ that make us feel relaxed, calm and content. When the brain is flooded with these chemicals, it’s very difficult to remain anxious or stressed. 

The structure surrounding pet ownership also helps you maintain a regular routine, which is one of the most important steps when fighting bouts of depression. 

“I think all pet owners experienced this first hand during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Making sure your dog had their walk or feeding and cuddling your cat kept some degree of routine going in a world that looked and felt so unfamiliar. Their needs didn’t change, and I think that was a tremendous support for many people,” says Dent. 

2. Pets improve your sleep patterns 

Did you know that research has revealed that cuddling with your dog can actually decrease your cortisol levels? Known as the ‘stress’ hormone, cortisol is responsible for keeping us awake. 

If you’ve got a cat, there’s even more good news. Not only does sleeping with a cat provide you with a sense of security and contentment, but the vibration of a cat’s purr actually has healing properties that relieve stress and lower blood pressure.

3. Pets fulfil the basic human need for touch 

We’ve all seen how much children love touching and hugging animals. We might not feel as free to do so as adults, but that inherent human need for touch doesn’t go away. Touch starvation is real and was one of the biggest issues that people living alone experienced during lockdown. When we don’t get enough social touch, it can have a negative impact on our wellbeing. 

“Stroking, patting, hugging, and generally touching an animal can make you feel calm and soothed, which is once again an effective tool to combat stress. Plus, if you have kids, they’re enjoying all of those benefits as well, which is an excellent way to combat anxiety in children,” says Dent.

4. Pets facilitate social interaction 

“We’ve all experienced some isolation over the past three years, and some of us more than others,” says Dent. “When we speak to the veterinarians whom we work with, it’s clear how important the companionship of pets became during the pandemic, but we know that this is a trend that has been growing for years. Companion animals play a big role in their households – they are family members.” 

Over and above the love pets bring into a household is the social aspect of taking dogs to parks for a walk, or sharing pet images with colleagues. “Pet appreciation pages over Zoom became a way for colleagues to bond while they worked remotely,” says Dent. “It’s amazing how any conversation can be started or how the ice can be broken when people talk about their fur babies.”

READ: Why pets can be good for you

5. Dogs improve your fitness 

Whether you are playing catch in the garden or taking your dog for regular walks or runs, you’re moving, which has a positive impact on both mental and physical health and well-being. 

Studies have shown that dog ownership is linked with a lower risk of death over the long term, which is possibly due to a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease thanks to more regular movement. We also know that moving and exercising releases endorphins, which links back to how pets reduce anxiety and stress levels. 

Celebrating our pets

“We love that there is a week dedicated to the celebration of companion animals,” says Dent. “It’s easy to forget what an enormous role fur babies play in the lives of their owners. For anyone who has elevated levels of stress and anxiety or who is feeling isolated or depressed, a pet might be exactly what the doctor ordered.”

READ: Study finds that dogs have a sharp memory that enables them to recall events from their past

Image courtesy of iStock/ @Prostock-Studio

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