Today, 10th October 2019, is World Mental Health Day and as animals lovers we have decided to take a look at the ways pets affect our mental health. If you are a pet owner you probably recognise the signs; the calming effect of stroking your pet, the excitement of taking your dog out on a walk, the love you feel when you come home to find them waiting for you every day. For most of us, owning a pet is a small luxury, but for some it can be life changing.
Paul spoke with mental health charity Mind about how getting a dog transformed his life after his mental health took a dive. He says the added responsibility has really helped him:
“You can still have your ‘off days’, but you’re forced into feeding them, walking them, cleaning up after them – it makes you feel productive. No matter what you did all day, you still achieved. Plus there’s the knowing that this little fur ball needs you which makes you feel useful. There are other needs too; you will have to pick up poop, mop up pee, pay vet bills and insurance etc. I find having this responsibility means I’m less focused on my struggles.”
Of course it’s not only dogs that can help us. Cats Protection, the leading cat rescue charity in the UK, recently conducted a survey that shows 93.7% state that owning a cat helps their mental health. Specifically, 72% said stroking their cat had a positive effect on their mental well being, and 58% said playing with their cat helped.
Eve adopted fluffy black-and-white cat Dusty from Cats Protection’s Hornchurch & District Branch after suffering a complete mental breakdown in January this year. She says that the adoption came at just the right time:
“I’m so grateful to Cats Protection for bringing Dusty and I together,” said Eve. “He has saved me and given me a purpose as well as more love and affection than I ever expected. He’s always with me and will help when I’m not feeling myself by nudging my hand and being even more affectionate than usual. Since having him in my life, my confidence has started to come back and I’m in a much better place and I absolutely believe he has played a huge part in improving my mental health. Dusty is so much more than just a cat, he’s my little angel.”
Dr David Cliff, a personal development coach at Gedanken, says: “The presence of an animal can have a supportive and calming effect on people. Stroking pets induces a sense of wellbeing, often creating blood pressure reduction. The warmth of contact, the brisk dog walk to maintain fitness, the cat’s calming purr, all of these offer owners gifts that are hard to place a value upon, but we would be clearly more impoverished without.”
Pets are being used more and more as a sort of therapy in care homes throughout the UK, providing support to those suffering the effects of alzheimer’s and dementia. Care agency SuperCarers notes that there are many positive effects of pets for dementia patients:
- Animals make great topics of conversation.
- The presence of pets has been known to help with memory, especially with those who have owned pets previously.
- Spending time with pets helps combat loneliness, stress, anxiety, and depression.
- Pets also help those with dementia stay calm and feel relaxed.
- Animal visits encourage exercise and cause bursts of energy.
- These visits can give those with dementia something to do and something to look forward to.
The positive effects of pets can be seen in those of all ages, and is particularly helpful to children diagnosed with ADHD or autism. Jethro, 9, from Eastleigh has autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) which has caused disruption within his family. Jethro’s mum discovered Pawsitive Squad CIC, a charity specialising in training dogs to be support animals and supporting their owners.
She says “Since we have got home Jesse has been lots of help. He’s come to lots of difficult places with us including the doctors and opticians. He helped reassure Jethro when he was needing a blood test. Jesse also helps walk Jethro to school which has helped with his school anxiety and transitioning into school. He’s also come to a big party where there are lots of people so having Jesse’s support has helped Jethro there. Not only is Jesse’s presence a comfort to Jethro, he also helps to support Jethro when he is anxious or having a meltdown by providing deep pressure therapy.”
As you can see, pets can benefit the mental health of people of all ages and from all different backgrounds. From diagnosed conditions to low points, animals provide us with a sense of responsibility as well as unconditional love and affection.
Part of why we offer the individual service that we do is because we understand that a pet is never really just a pet. They are companions or even family members, and when we lose them it can be totally devastating. Click here for information about pet bereavement resources and services.