Anyone who has owned a pet knows the joy that a furry little companion can bring into your life, but you may not be aware that pets offer us more than just unconditional love. In fact, studies have shown that pets can actually be good for your mental and physical health1:
- Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression.
- Playing with a pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax us.
- Pet owners have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than people without pets and have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
- Heart attack patients who own pets survive longer than those without a furry or feathered companion.
- Pet owners who are older than 65 visit their doctors less often.
Why pets are good for you
There are several reasons behind the amazing health benefits of owning a pet, and most of them have to do with the way we interact with them. Petting an animal is a calming experience that can help soothe us when we’re experiencing anxiety, but pets can also:
- make us more active and help us meet new people,
- add the kind of structure and routine to our day that helps us keep pushing forward even during stressful times,
- encourage play and fun that keeps us moving and laughing, and
- help us find meaning and joy in our life, particularly as we age.
All that, plus they’re cute and loveable too!
Is a pet right for your household?
Before heading off to a shelter to adopt a pet, there are some things to take into consideration.
First, pets are a commitment that you must make for their entire lifetime. That kitten you’ve fallen in love with could live for 20 years, dogs can live from 8 – 17 years depending upon their size and breed, and some breeds of parrot can live to be as old as 70.
All pets require training, supervision and medical care throughout their lives – and they need your companionship too. As soon as you adopt them, they become members of your family. If you think that in a few years your circumstances will change enough that owning a pet will become too difficult or time-consuming, or if you know you don’t have the financial means to provide regular veterinary care in the event of a costly medical emergency, then the kindest thing you can do is not bring one into your home.
But that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the mental health benefits of snuggling with a furry friend. You could choose to foster instead! Rescue organisations are always in need of responsible foster parents who can take animals in and care for them on a short-term basis until they have found a suitable permanent home. You could also offer to pet sit or walk a friend’s dog, or volunteer at your local Humane Society so that you can enjoy interacting with animals without having the responsibility and expense of owning one yourself.
How to choose the perfect pet
When selecting a pet to add to your family, consider the following:
- Your lifestyle. Do you travel a lot or work long hours and know you won’t be home often? Do you have the energy to train a puppy or handle a large, active dog? Are you particular about your home, or would you be okay with some pet messes and damage from claws and teeth?
- Your family. The right pet can be great for children, but sometimes they are nearly as much work. Are all members of your household willing and able to pitch in and help with the care of your new pet?
- Your physical space. Do you have a big house and a large fenced-in garden to accommodate a high-energy dog? Do you live in an apartment? Would an indoor cat or a rodent better suit your space?
- Your allergies. If you or someone in your house has severe allergies to fur or dander, then furry animals probably aren’t the best choice for you. Consider fish, lizards or birds.
- What you want from the relationship. Do you want an adventurous hiking buddy, a cuddly TV-watching companion, a very low-maintenance companion, or a nocturnal animal that you won’t see much during the day?
Talking to friends and family members who have pets can help you make your decision, but it’s also helpful to speak to a veterinarian. They can give you inside information about the needs of various kinds of animals, what annual vet visits can typically cost and what kind of pet might best suit your lifestyle.