There’s no doubt pets bring us plenty of joy, but the perks go well beyond their cuteness.
“Pets offer unconditional love and companionship,” animal behaviourist Laura Vissaritis says. “Whatever life challenges you might be facing, they provide a constant source of support and understanding that you don’t always get from humans."
“The problem is people often think that owning a pet is a lot of hard work – but that’s not necessarily the case. As long as you make them part of the family, you can’t go wrong,” she says.
The most important thing is to choose the right animal companion for you. That’s why the RSPCA’s new website features a pet matchmaker quiz to help you find a buddy who needs re-homing. There’s also information to help you decide what sort of pet best suits your lifestyle – whether you’re highly active with a big backyard or prefer the comfort of your inner-city apartment.
Here are 13 reasons why adopting a four-legged pal is an extremely paws-itive idea!
Sleeping with your pet nearby could help you get a better night’s rest. “When you allow your pet to sleep in your bedroom, it provides a safe haven for both of you,” Laura says. “Not only does this provide comfort, companionship and warmth, but it can also strengthen the relationship with your furry friend.”
Plus, when you drift off to sleep, you’re at your most vulnerable so snuggling up to a pet is a fantastic way to feel protected.
Multiple cardiovascular health studies have shown pet owners are less likely to die in the 12 months following a heart attack than those without companion animals.
Owning a pet can help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. “They basically keep you moving, which has a positive effect on blood pressure and heart rate,” Laura explains. “While there are obvious physiological benefits, when you touch an animal it stimulates the release of the ‘cuddle chemical’ oxytocin in your brain. This can also have a positive effect on heart health because it makes you feel happier and motivates you to be more active.”
Having a pet makes you more selfless because you tend to their needs. “They teach you to be more aware of other people’s feelings because you constantly have to think about what they’re trying to tell you,” Laura says.
“As a result, you end up becoming more responsible, patient and respectful of others. It’s a really unique gift that animals have.”
Spending just a few minutes stroking your pet can trigger a powerful chemical reaction in your brain that is similar to the feeling you get when you fall in love or feel really close to someone. This can be particularly useful for people suffering from anxiety or depression.
Plus, “When you have a pet, it gives you a sense of purpose, which encourages you to step up and take care of them instead of focusing on your own problems,” Laura says.
“Having a dog in your house – especially one that barks – is a massive deterrent for burglars,” Dr Katrina Warren, Veterinarian and PAW by Blackmores ambassador says. Studies show dogs can deter thieves by as much as 60 per cent.
According to US research, when you play with a dog it increases your exposure to their helpful bacteria, which can assist in strengthening your own gut microbes.
“The more contact you have, the less likely you are to develop allergic reactions,” Laura says. And the fact pet owners spend more time outdoors exposed to allergens, such as fur, dust and pollen, can also be beneficial.
“This triggers an immune response, which makes you less likely to develop a reaction,” she says.
Fifty per cent of animal owners say they regularly meet people in their neighbourhood because of their pet, University of Western Australia research says.
Pets can help you meet new friends.
“When you take your dog for a walk, it’s customary for people to stop and say hello and talk about their pet, too,” Laura says. “This can be especially helpful for people who are lonely, or those who don’t have a lot of people around them, because it creates a common connection that you otherwise wouldn’t have.”
Plenty of research shows hospital patients recover faster when they have an animal companion waiting for them at home. “This happens because pet owners have a responsibility to look after their pet, which encourages them to be more active when trying to recover from illness,” Dr Warren explains. Many view their pets as adopted children, which means they don’t have time to be sick. “It forces you to get over illness quicker because no matter how you’re feeling, they still need you to take care of them,” Laura says.
Dr Warren says pets seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to understanding our emotions. “This can be especially beneficial for lonely, sick or elderly people because it provides something of a shoulder to cry on,” she says.
Dogs in particular are terrific for encouraging you to be more active because they give you a reason to walk more often – rain, hail or shine. And when you cater to the needs of your dog, you’ll be more likely to make better fitness decisions for yourself.
“There’s lots of evidence to suggest that when you play with your pet, it motivates you to be more active in general because it increases the release of happy hormones in your brain,” Laura says. In fact, studies show dog owners do 55 minutes more physical activity per week than non-pet owners.
Research shows animal owners make fewer visits to the doctor and use fewer medications than those without pets.