Blog post #2 Friends with benefits: the real benefits of pet ownership
In the last blog post we discussed the pet landscape. We covered off some interesting facts such as how many pets there are, what are the different types of pets people have and some other interesting pet ownership statistics. If you haven’t read that post, then jump in and take a look here (link).
The fact that pet ownership is relatively high, certainly in many developed countries around the world, must mean that pets fill a need and serve a purpose in our lives. Pets provide certain benefits that we as humans need. Thats what we will be discussing in this post.
Just how long have pets been around? Well, pets have been around for thousands of years. Depending on which resources you look at, it is evident that dogs and cats have been domesticated as companions for a very long time. Some records even state that dogs began to be domesticated (albeit as wolves back then) as many as 10,000 years ago.
Companion animals are very popular.
Those of you that own pets will agree that the benefits of pet ownership far outweigh the cons and the experience is both incredible and priceless.
So, what are the vital contributions that pets make to our lives daily? There are well documented physical, psychological, and social benefits that arise from owning a pet. All of these areas are interrelated and are obviously not mutually exclusive.
Physical Health Benefits
Getting out and about walking your dog is a great incentive to go outside and explore your neighbourhood. This is much easier when the sun is shining however pets can even get us moving when the weather is not that good.
While you don’t find many people taking their feline friends for a walk, chasing the cat around the house or even needing to clean up the litter box, requires us to move our bodies.
Playing with your pets inside your home or outside can be a great source of fun and activity; and can have a positive effect in getting us moving rather than being sedentary. This applies to all family members of all ages, from children to seniors.
Other health benefits include better cardiovascular health, decreased blood pressure, decreased cholesterol levels; and there is some evidence that pets help reduce allergies in children.
All these can be chronic conditions that put strain on the healthcare system.
In the US, chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease, cost billions of dollars every year in both in direct costs to the health care system as well as the economic cost of lost productivity.
In Australia, there are similar economic challenges.
Pets help to reduce stress and in doing so help reduce the number of visits to the doctor.
By having a positive impact on a pet owners physical health, it’s quite plausible that pets may help reduce these health system costs and economic burdens.
Psychological benefits / Mental and well-being
Pets provide companionship. Having a friend around can reduce feelings of stress, loneliness and depression.
There is nothing quite like coming home from a big day at work, or even being out and about for a few hours, and be greeted by your dog who is ecstatic to see you. Equally, talking to and confiding in your cat who sits there purring as you share about the day you’ve had. Even having a chat with a goldfish can take the edge off and make you feel better.
Solid as a rock
Animals don’t pass criticism, they don’t ask questions, and they don’t judge – that is probably why they make us feel so safe, secure and at peace.
The majority of pet owners regard their pet as being part of the family. Some pet owners regard their companion as being a faithful friend, a rock-solid counterpart that they can always count on. Sometimes these are qualities we can’t always expect of humankind
There is a level of consistency that we get with pet companions that is free from the emotional ups and downs that we find with human interactions. People often crave consistency in their lives, and this may be yet another of the many reasons why there is such a strong bond between us and our pets.
Watching pets can have a significant calming effect, think of the tranquillity you feel just by watching fish in a pond.
Pets can also help fill a void or a vacuum when experiencing loss or disruption. This might be in broken families, single parent families or following the loss of a lifelong partner.
Pets provide a sense of purpose for the day and purpose in life. They help develop a positive outlook. No matter your age, pets provide comfort and companionship. This has especially been true during COVID-19 isolation and lockdowns.
Pets simply bring such joy and inject fun into our lives….and we all need a bit of fun.
Pets help us get through trying times whether those are a personal or individual challenges or challenges facing a whole nation, just as we have had recently.
By alleviating stress and providing companionship, pets have the potential to help children study better and they can benefit education outcomes as well.
Having a pet can help you engage with other people; whether it’s in the dog park, at the groomer, or even taking your cat or reptile to the vet. These are all interactions that help get you connecting with other people.
And of course, just look how much traffic and attention there is on the social platforms when it comes to dogs, cats and all things pets.
Pet Proud – this is that sense of pride and satisfaction you get by sharing and watching how your pet blends, moulds and is a part of your life. A pet parent can have just as much pride about their pet as does a parent have about their child….after all they are also our children!
Pets are not socially demanding, or threatening, again providing a comfortable place to just be who you are – no pressure.
Because pets give us a sense of companionship, they also lift our courage and help us interact when perhaps we normally wouldn’t engage with others.
Our pets are facilitators of social interactions and encourage people to engage with one another. It’s not just the pet owners that benefit from this interaction, pets can also help bridge a gap for non-pet owners too.
In many respects, our pets help us break down invisible barriers…think of how many conversations have been struck up in the park as a result of people commenting about their, or another persons’ pet. Pets are the catalyst for many of these social interactions. Everyone tends to feel more at ease when a pet is in the mix, because the ice is broken, and the attention is on the pet not on the people involved.
It’s also likely that the pets we have growing up as children form deep rooted meanings for us. Just think of the pets you had growing up. You probably can recall countless positive emotions and look back with fond memories.
Having kids grow up with pets helps them develop a sense of responsibility and compassion and empathy for others. All of these life lessons can be transferred to other areas of our lives.
How pets meet our needs
Maslow was a famous psychologist from around the mid 1900’s who developed the theory of human motivation. There are needs that we as humans need to satisfy. Starting with the most basic to the more advanced they are as follows:
- Physiological needs (air water food warmth, sleep, shelter),
- Safety needs (personal emotional and financial security),
- Social belonging needs (love, friendship, intimacy, family),
- then there are the Esteem needs (the need for respect, recognition, attention),
- Self-actualisation needs (parenting, pursuing goals)
In his later work he defined a more pinnacle level which he termed transcendence, an altruistic behaviour where one gives oneself to something beyond oneself.
These needs are often represented as a pyramid with the most basic needs at the base. If you consider this hierarchy of needs, it becomes clear that pets actually satisfy many of our human needs. For example, they may provide warmth, physical and emotional safety, love and belonging, respect, recognition and attention. They fulfil the need for parenting and even at the pinnacle level, altruism. Since they address so many of our needs there is no wonder that they hold a special place in our lives.
Those of you that own a pet will know just how much value they add to your life. You don’t need any data or evidence, you just know. There is such a strong bond that you have with your pet, and I get that, I feel the same way about mine.
Aside from the benefits already stated, there are many other human-animal interactions which create positive impacts like animal assisted therapy, assistance dogs and guide dogs. There are also working dogs such as detector dogs, police dogs and farm dogs.
Benefits far outweigh the costs
In summary, whilst pet ownership involves a great deal of responsibility, there are a multitude of benefits which include physical, mental, and social advantages.
Our pets do so much for us both physically, mentally and socially, let’s make sure we’re returning the favour and caring for them as best we can.
#return the pet favour
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- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31390112/ – The economic cost of preventable disease in Australia: A systematic review of estimates and methods. Aust N Z J Public Health. 2019 Oct;43(5):484-495. doi: 10.1111/1753-6405.12925. Epub 2019 Aug 7
- Pet ownership in Australia. 2013. Animal Health Alliance, https://animalmedicinesaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/AMA-Pet-Ownership-in-Australia-5-AUGUST-2013.pdf
- Assessing the benefits and risks of owning a pet. E. Paul Cherniack MD, Ariella R. Cherniack. CMAJ, July 14, 2015, 187(10)
- Stressful life events and use of physician services among the elderly: The moderating role of pet ownership.By Siegel, Judith M. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 58(6), Jun 1990, 1081-1086
- Koukourikos, Konstantinos, MSc,PhD.(c), Georgopoulou, A., R.N., Kourkouta, L., PhD., & Tsaloglidou, Areti,M.Sc, PhD. (2019). Benefits of animal assisted therapy in mental health.International Journal of Caring Sciences, 12(3), 1898-1905. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/2363845168?accountid=13902