Monday 9 May 2022 marked the start of Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. Founded 21 years ago, the awareness week is an annual event that highlights the importance of maintaining a healthy mindset. Taking place from 9 to 15 May, this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week focuses on loneliness. But did you know that 90 percent of pet owners feel mentally healthier thanks to their pet? Veterinary refrigeration experts, CoolMed, have looked at how pets can positively impact their owners’ mental health and help to reduce loneliness.
Within the UK, levels of loneliness have gradually increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In April 2020, 5 percent of adults (around 2.6 million people) said they felt lonely “often” or “always”. In February 2021, this figure had risen to 7.2 percent of people (around 3.7 million adults).
Loneliness has been shown to have a huge impact on both physical and mental health. In fact, researchers believe that the effect of loneliness on mortality is comparable to the impact of well-known risk factors such as obesity and cigarette smoking.
Pets benefit your mental health
Owning a pet is one way that has been shown to reduce feelings of loneliness. Dogs especially have been linked to improved wellbeing and a reduction in stress and anxiety levels in humans. A recent YouGov survey of nearly 5,000 UK pet owners found that 90 percent of dog owners felt mentally healthier thanks to their pet.
Figures were only slightly lower for cat and rabbit owners, at 85 percent and 81 percent respectively, showing the positive impact pets can have on our mental health.
Here are four ways pets can benefit your mental health:
1. They can help to reduce loneliness and provide companionship
More UK households own a dog than any other kind of pet. Not only do dogs provide companionship and comfort, they also encourage owners to explore their local area on walks and get to know people in their neighbourhood, thereby reducing social isolation.
Being socially connected is good for mental well-being and helps protect against mental ill health.
2. They’re great listeners and can boost self-confidence
Pets can be great listeners too – they don’t criticise, they offer unconditional love and they often instinctively know when their owner is feeling down or upset. This can help to boost self-confidence, as it allows owners to feel understood and cared for.
Research conducted by the University of Melbourne found that around 50 percent of adults and 70 percent of adolescents who own a pet regularly confide in them. So, when you have a pet, you’ll always have someone to talk to.
3. They help us in later life
Pets make great companions, particularly for the elderly. Pets such as cats and dogs have been shown to have a revitalising effect on owners. Between encouraging exercise and preventing loneliness, pets can help bring better mental and physical health to their senior owners.
Pets have also been shown to help dementia and Alzheimer’s patients with their mental health. Due to this, more and more care homes are enlisting the help of animals to create a calmer, more homely environment for their residents.
4. Pets can lower stress levels
Several studies have shown that petting and playing with animals reduces levels of stress-related hormones such as cortisol, therefore, pets are very helpful for anxiety sufferers.
Playing with a pet causes an increase in serotonin and dopamine, which are also known as “happiness hormones”. These hormones relax and calm the nervous system, helping to combat both stress and anxiety. The sensory act of stroking a pet has also been shown to lower blood pressure, which in turn reduces stress.