Pets and Mental Health

The companionship that a pet offers is great way to reduce anxiety and stress.

Studies carried out at the universities of Manchester, Southampton and Liverpool concluded that pets can help people manage their long-term mental health conditions by providing a powerful distraction. Some pets also encourage physical activity, such as walking the dog, but also encourages the owner to engage socially with other pet owners.  A hamster owner told the researchers that cleaning the cage and feeding the animal gave them a sense of purpose. One bird owner described how important it is to feel like everyone else and not feel isolated. Having pets makes you feel like everyone else.

Calming

Pets can also have a calming effect on their owners. Stroking, sitting next to or playing with a pet can give the owners a chance to be calm and clear their minds.

Loneliness

A pet is a great companion. They provide owners with company as well as a sense of security and someone to share the routine of the day with.

Later Life

People in later life who are experiencing typical life stresses can be comforted by a companion pet. It is thought that a dog can act as a stress buffer that softens the effect of adverse events on a person. There is some evidence to show that when there is a pet in the home, people with Alzheimer’s are thought to have fewer anxious outbursts.

Children with ADHD

Children with ADHD can benefit for looking after a pet. Taking charge of their welfare by feeding, walking and bathing can help the child learn to plan and take responsibility.

Pets need to play, and this can be a great way for the child to run and burn off excess energy. Playing with a kitten or taking a dog for a walk can make the child more relaxed later in the day and calmer at night. Fresh air and good circulation from aerobic exercise increases oxygen-filled blood flow to the child’s brain, therefore increasing their ability to concentrate.

Children with ADHD are familiar with their parents trying to calm them down. A pet is not only a good companion but also a good listener and provides unconditional love and wont reprimand the child for having endless amounts of energy! This can provide a boost to the child’s self-confidence.

Autism

Children with autism are often introduced to sensory activities so they get used to the way something feels, sounds or smells. Dogs and horses have both been used for this purpose. Children with autism often find it calming to work with animals.

Pet Prevalence

Every year the Pet Food Manufactures’ Association (PFMA) commissions the Pet Population report, which looks in detail at pet ownership trends. In 2018 it is estimated that 12m (45%) of households have pets.

The Mental Health Foundation carried out a study with Cat’s Protection which involved 600 respondents; a mix of cat owners and non-cat owners. Half described themselves as currently having a mental health problem. The survey found that 87% of people who owned a cat felt it had a positive impact on their wellbeing. 76% said they could cope with everyday life much better thanks to their feline friend.

Half of the cat owners felt their cat’s companionship was most helpful, followed by a third of respondents who described stroking a cat as a calming and helpful activity.