Discover why owning a pet such as a dog or a cat can boost your mental health.
We’re facing a loneliness epidemic, with an estimated 3.7M people in the UK over 16 years old often feeling lonely. But can pet ownership help? Mental health expert, Paul Scates, believes it can.
Perfect Pet caught up with Paul to get his take on the subject…
Can owning a pet help with loneliness?
“I’ve worked with lots clients experiencing loneliness, and I have also felt lonely at times. I think we all do!
Caring for pets is a great way to alleviate feelings of loneliness. Simply knowing that you’re needed can fill the void and give purpose to your day.
Human companionship can, unfortunately, come with conditions. However, with dogs and cats, its total unconditional love; by looking after them, they’ll love you in abundance.”
Can pets help to boost your mental health?
“An animal can sense when you’re not feeling great and be beside you, they can be your constant companion – I like to refer to this as mental wealth!”
“Some of my clients have dogs that they take into pet-friendly environments as a comfort blanket, which helps to reduce anxiety in social environments.
Others tell me that they can’t wait to retire. I hear that a lot! However, for many, retirement can cause a feeling of lost identity and belonging. Pets can be that lifeline a person needs to balance their new found world with companionship and routine. The same goes for a person that may be grieving a partner’s loss, for example.
There are many therapeutic benefits of pet ownership. For example, endorphins and other feel-good chemicals can be released simply from stroking your dog or cat. It can satisfy that basic human need for touch and companionship.”
What are the benefits of daily walks with your dog?
“Regardless of the weather, you know that if you have a dog, it must go for walks and get the right amount of daily exercise. I have clients that would not go out if it was not for their dog.
When feeling low or depressed, you may say to yourself that’s it’s very dull and dismal outside, when in reality it’s just a bit grey. Having a pet, in particular a dog, helps to add structure to your day and gets you outside, which can ultimately help to lift your mood.
Stress and anxiety can be eased with a short stroll, and with a dog by your side, the mind is able to focus more towards the needs of the dog and act as a positive distraction.
Of course, there are many psychological and physiological benefits to getting outside with your pet for some fresh air and exercise. If you also have children, then it’s also a great opportunity for them to learn about nature and the environment around them.
The health benefits of walking a dog can be particularly beneficial if you live with diabetes or high blood pressure, and unlike going to the gym, many people don’t even see it as exercise! ”
Can pets help you to form new relationships?
“Yes, dogs and cats can help to give added purpose to your days and help you to even form new relationships.
When you walk a dog, you’ll see similar faces. I even know of a client that met his wife through daily walks with his dog. They are both dog owners and, over time struck up a conversation, and of course, they already had something in common, the love of dogs. The beauty of dog ownership has made that possible.”
Pet Insurance for added peace of mind
“Dogs and cats are family, and taking out pet insurance can help to reduce anxiety and financial burden should your pet ever require medical treatment.
Dog insurance, I have it, and I know you can spread the cost monthly. It really can help to give you peace of mind, and I would 100% recommend getting it, as you never know when your pet will need it.”
Need help? Support is available
These services offer confidential support from trained volunteers. You can talk about anything that’s troubling you, no matter how difficult:
For older people if you are feeling lonely, the Age UK Advice Line is a free, confidential, national phone service that can help. You can reach them on 0800 678 1602.
Age UK also provide support and advice to families, friends, and carers 365 days a year.
If you want to help and are able, then you can also volunteer for The Campaign to end loneliness.