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Pets are quite simply the best - well, not according to everyone, but the world would be utterly boring if we were all the same. For those of you who are that way inclined we’ve decided to write a blog about our special companions, and how they can benefit our mental health. They come in all shapes and sizes, whether you're a dog-lover, a cat-over, a reptile-lover, or you just love animals in general - well, there is something out there to suit every kind of person, and personality.
As well as being a wonderful source of comfort and companionship for many, particularly those who are suffering from isolation and loneliness, pets can also greatly impact our mental health. At the moment in the UK, it’s estimated that 44% of the population own pets, that’s 12 million households, making the total number of people who own pets, approximately 51 million . At the moment, there are believed to be as many as 9.9 million pet dogs in the UK, 10.9 million cats, and surprisingly, 200,000 lizards kept as pets .
In a recent American study from the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) 98% of pet owners agreed that their pet is an important part of their family, with 95% of pet owners surveyed stating they could not imagine giving up their pet for any reason . HABRI also found that 71% of pet owners have heard about scientific research that demonstrates pet ownership can help improve physical or mental health in people . When it came to the benefits that pet owners experienced with regards to their mental health, 74% of those surveyed reported mental health improvements from pet ownership, with 88% of pet owners agreeing that doctors and specialists should recommend pets to patients for healthier living .
Some universities in America have initiated programmes whereby students can ‘pet their stress away’ with cats and dogs . A recent study from scientists at Washington State University backed up the belief that these programmes can be beneficial for student’s stress relief . Patricia Pendry, an associate professor in WSU's Department of Human Development, said at the time ‘just 10 minutes can have a significant impact - students in our study that interacted with cats and dogs had a significant reduction in cortisol, a major stress hormone .’
Another study in 2016 by research scientists at Purdue University, found that pets can provide a sense of security and routine, and give social and emotional assistance to those suffering from long-term mental health issues, with researchers of the study concluding ‘pets should be considered a main rather than a marginal source of support in the management of long-term mental health problems, and this has implications for the planning and delivery of mental health services ’. The good news doesn’t end there, another study by researchers in China found that pet owners had a tendency to visit the doctor less frequently, in this study it was also found that pet owners ‘exercised more frequently, had higher self-reported fitness and health, and tended to sleep better [12 ]’. And news of the medicinal benefits of pets isn’t a one off - a second study by researchers in both Germany and Australia also found that pet owners actually have less visits to the doctor .
So, taking all of that excellent pet-based science into account, we’ve decided to ask some of our nearest and dearest at Truth how having a pet has lifted their spirits in times of difficulty and brightened up their life:
I have owned pets my entire life. I purchased my most recent one - a sausage dog named Frankie - when I moved to London and was feeling the expected loneliness of a new, big city. Safe to say, it was truly the best decision I have ever made. There is just no feeling like being greeted at the door by your furry best friend who is just SO elated to see you, every. single. time. He was actually the catalyst of my first friendships in London as we were stopped at the park on our daily walk by two local friendly girls for a puppy pat!
I grew up with dogs, but when I moved to the UK it became impossible to have a pet of my own due to my work schedule and landlord. It became obvious to me how great having a dog is for my mental health.
After several years, I finally had the opportunity to adopt a dog again, so me and my partner rescued our pup Chiko from Turkey. He’s the best!
Chiko makes me laugh every single day, and he makes me go outside on walks during busy workdays. He has improved my life on every level.
I’ve always thought of dogs as the greatest reminder that goodness exists in the world. Which may explain why I’m always THAT person who’ll stop everything I’m doing to pat a stranger’s dog. After having volunteered at rescues and dog-sat everyone else’s pups, I finally rescued my own just over a month ago. It’s safe to say, my life has changed exponentially since Winter aka Winnie/Win-Win/Bubba/Goodgirlwin came into my life. Although it’s come with many, many challenges, I wouldn’t change it for the world. She teaches me to be a better person every day - both mentally and physically (my pedometer thinks I’ve come out of a coma to be honest).