We all know that animals can be cute and cuddly, but did you know that owning a pet can impact your life in other, more significant ways?
Having a pet, whether it’s a cat, a dog or a humble goldfish, comes with a wide range of benefits – from helping you to lose weight, through improving your mental health, to combatting loneliness.
The physical benefits of owning a pet
Having pets motivates you to exercise more, which can do wonders for your fitness, mental health and self-confidence.
Who needs the gym? Owning a pet will help you to increase your physical activity, whether that’s through dog walking, cleaning out the rabbit hutch or emptying the cat litter. Getting regular exercise will increase your general fitness and give you more energy, better heart health and lower cholesterol.
But there are also less obvious reasons why having pets at home can improve your physical health. Without even leaving the house, the bond between human and pet can result in decreased blood pressure because it reduces stress symptoms.
An antidote to depression, anxiety and stress
Many pet owners find that having something to care for gives them an extra purpose in life.
As well as the physical benefits, having pets at home can improve mental health and emotional wellbeing. Pets can act as a motivator for their owners, which can help with depression. They can reduce anxiety among Alzheimer’s sufferers, and also benefit children with ADHD.
How pets can help to combat loneliness
Pets might not be able to talk, but having them around the house benefits thousands of lonely people in the UK.
According to The Loneliness Lab, a project working to reduce loneliness in communities, nine million people in the UK are lonely. Indeed, loneliness has become so widespread that in 2018 the UK government appointed a Loneliness Minister to try to tackle it. Older people are especially vulnerable to feeling lonely. But having a pet to keep you company can significantly reduce loneliness.
If you’re a dog person already, you’ll know that it’s practically impossible to go dog walking in the park without it resulting in interactions with other people. This increased opportunity for socialising, even if it’s just a quick chat about the weather, can make a huge difference to your mood and overall mental health.
For many owners, pets have a calming effect, helping them through stressful times in their life.
But it’s not just the interaction with other humans that will help to curb loneliness. Having pets at home brings companionship in itself. As anyone who lives alone with a pet can attest to, it’s difficult to imagine life without them. They can be invaluable in times of stress or crisis, whether that’s a bad day at work or the loss of a loved one. If you don’t have the capacity, space or time to look after cats or dogs, even having fish or other lower-maintenance pets can give you a reason to get up and go in the morning. After a while, you’ll forget which one of you needs the other the most.
Pets can also have a calming effect on their owners. “Just stroking, sitting next to or playing with a pet can give owners a chance to relax and calm their minds,” according to the Mental Health Foundation. “Caring for a pet also gives your day purpose and reward, and a sense of achievement. It helps you to feel valuable and needed.”
Having a pet could help you to find love
A mutual love of animals is a great conversation starter, and many people have found love through their pets.
There’s another way that getting a pet, especially a dog, could reduce loneliness: research has shown that it makes you more attractive to potential romantic partners. Apart from the increased opportunity to strike up a conversation with other people out dog walking, a study found that people with dogs are perceived to be more attractive, caring, approachable, empathetic and happier. Men in particular were perceived as being less selfish and more prone to commitment.
Plenty of people include their pets in their dating app profiles in an attempt to catch the eye of potential partners.
Men have taken this research to heart, as shown by the number who choose pictures of themselves posing with puppies (either their own or borrowed!) on their dating app profiles. Just make sure that someone isn’t dating you for your dog… A 2020 study by Battersea Dogs and Cats Home revealed that 31% of women agree that being a rescue dog owner makes someone more attractive, while owning a rescue cat was more desirable for 23% of women.
Battersea’s research also found that for over half of pet owners in the UK, their pet is the love of their life – so happiness could be just around the corner.