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5 ways owning a pet can benefit your health

Friday, 1 September 2017

Animals have a long history of supporting humans, from Guide Dogs for the Blind to Medical Detection Dogs. Everyone can benefit from owning a pet and my life has changed a lot since I got my dog Coco. Introducing our Shih Tzu to the family has honestly been the best move my partner and I have ever made.

A study by the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International revealed that pet ownership could save the NHS up to £2.45billion a year through reducing the number of visits to a doctor, taking into account the influence of pet ownership on human mental and physical health, illness prevention and wellbeing. Staggering!
According to research from AXA PPP healthcare, 56% of Brits say that taking time to relax, or ‘me time’, impacts their ability to deal with life’s setbacks.  
“Taking care of and spending time with a pet is a great way to give yourself some headspace to deal with life’s setbacks and challenges,” explains Eugene Farrell, mental health expert at AXA PPP healthcare. “Walking your dog – or even borrowing one from a neighbour or local animal rescue centre – can do wonders for your wellbeing as it combines moderate exercise with taking a break from work or household chores and getting some fresh air. Similarly, caring for other types of pets can help us take time out of our busy schedules which can help us gain perspective and recharge our batteries.”

Sitting next to or playing with a pet relaxes and calms the mind, helping to give pet owners some much needed ‘me time’ to improve their mood and overall health.
Google Trends research by the healthcare provider reveals a 296% increase between March 2007 and March 2017 for the term ‘how to relax’, in the UK.
Here are the 5 top reasons why living with pets is good for our minds and bodies:
1.    Unconditional love. However bad your day’s been, you’ll have someone who depends on you to shower you with affection. The emotional bond between owner and pet can be as intense as that in many human relationships and may have similar psychological benefits. My partner works shifts which means I spend many evenings alone, having Coco there with me certainly eases the feeling of loneliness.
2.    Routine. The responsibilities that come with owning a pet can give your day purpose, reward and a sense of achievement. Regular routines and rituals are said to help forge discipline, help energy management and support mental space. The Dogs Trust also highlights that a good routine is vital for your dog’s wellbeing too. Coco barks and scratches at my bedroom door if I sleep past 8am so no lazing around for me anymore - Coco needs constant attention.
3.    Lower risk of heart disease. Owning a pet can reduce your risk of developing heart disease. It may be that dog owners naturally do more exercise, but pets also play a role in providing social support, encouraging you to stick with a new habit or adopting a healthy behaviour. Owning a cat has also been associated with a reduced rate of dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD) and stroke, due to the stress-relieving effects of animal companionship.
4.    Socialising. Pets can act as a social icebreaker between strangers, or as a catalyst for social interaction. Research suggests that dog walkers experience significantly higher social capital (interactions and relationships) than non-dog walkers. If you want to enjoy some company with a dog but don't want all the responsibility that comes with it why not volunteer to walk a dog with your local shelter? For those based in South Wales visit this Cardiff Dogs Home page for more information.
5.    Boost to mental wellbeing. Studies have found that dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets and ownership can reduce stress and anxiety levels. Playing with a dog or cat can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.