If you follow my blog and have read my intro page, you’ll know that as well as being a wife, I’m also a hamster mummy to the gorgeous Rosie. Due in part to my mental health difficulties, my husband and I made the decision not to have children. However, I still love looking after things and having a pet is a great way of doing this. Today, I’m going to share five ways that having a pet, whether a furry friend or something scaly, can support your health and wellbeing.
- helps manage loneliness and depression
Keeping a pet can be great for combatting loneliness as they may help you to feel needed and can also be a source of companionship. People might feel lonely for a variety of reasons such as loss of a loved one, aging, moving away from family and friends, marriage breakdown or divorce. It’s even possible to feel completely alone when you are surrounded by others, especially if you have depression, feel misunderstood or uncared for. Pets can help as they are often very reliant on their humans for care and attention, and, depending on the type of animal chosen and their temperament, might also offer unconditional love and affection towards their owner.
Additionally, having a pet gives you something else to think about when you are finding yourself consumed by negative thoughts and are therefore a great distraction when you are struggling with anxiety or depression. Obviously, some animals need more attention than others and dogs have been found to be particularly good at offering emotional support to their owners at times of difficulty.
- helps you make friends and improves your social life
The obvious pet that comes to mind for this one is a dog where there’s the potential to meet other dog owners in the park or other place that you take then for walkies and get chatting either about your own pets or about other common topics such as the weather. However, you can also make virtual friends online by joining a group on Facebook dedicated to your furry, feathered or scaly friend. For example, I belong to a Hamster group where we share cute or funny pics of our little ones, discuss any issues we might be having and console each other during times of loss. You can also share images on Instagram – I personally use #hamstergram, #hamsterlife, #hamstersofinstagram etc and gorge on cuteness from other members. And there are even little videos to like and comment on.
- can substantially improve your mood
Pets can be great for elevating your mood and making you feel happier. I certainly found this to be true when I was struggling with depression, but even if your low mood is just temporary and due to, for example, a bad day at work or a particularly stressful commute home, a pet can be a great tonic. Also, studies have shown that making eye contact with your choice of creature can stimulate the production of oxytocin aka the love hormone whilst spending time together can boost serotonin, a substance which regulates mood as well as supporting a range of other aspects of wellbeing.
- provides sensory stress relief and help you unwind
I love having cuddles with Rosie and sitting her on my knee for a stroke. Petting a furry friend has been shown to be a really soothing activity and one which helps release the stresses of the day. Now, you might say, but I keep fish, I can hardly get them out of the tank for some close one-to-one time, but you can still use your other senses to help you relax. For example, watching tropical fish as they glide around their environment or watching them feed or weave through the plants can create a sense of real calm and relaxation. In fact, that’s why they are sometimes found in the waiting room of a dental surgery or in hospitals. Other pets in tanks, such as stick insects, can also be fascinating to watch as they feed on leaves or blend in to their surroundings.
And even if you don’t have the time or energy to invest in a pet of your own, you can still enjoy wonderful sensory experiences by appreciating visitors to your garden. Simply observing a bee sneaking inside flowers, doing its waggle dance to collect pollen and smother its back legs with bright yellow can be a delight for your eyes. Hearing bird song as you relax on a garden chair may be just the kind of amazing tune that your ears need after a busy day.
- helps to improve your relationships
Research has shown that keeping a pet can help strengthen your relationship with your partner and even your kids. According to my reading, whether you already feel pretty close to your loved ones or not, having a pet is something you both have in common and this creates a new bond where you both share similar feelings and sentiments. This certainly holds true for my husband and I as we often spent time interacting with Rosie together and she is regularly the subject of discussion on an evening when she is up to her usual antics!
Things to consider before you get a pet
Of course, before you all rush out and get yourself a new pet, you need to make sure that you have time for one and that you know all about the type of creature you are thinking of getting. Some basic questions to ask yourself could include:
- how long does this pet live on average?
- what does the pet like to eat?
- how much exercise does it need?
- which habitat is required to keep the pet healthy?
- what basic equipment is required to keep this type of pet?
- how much does it cost to keep this pet per week or year?
- how big does it get?
- do I have enough time to properly care for this pet?
All pets require some form of commitment, so make sure you’re able to make one before purchasing or adopting!
I would love to hear about your experiences of having pets and what you think are the main benefits for you. I know some of my followers keep guinea pigs and rabbits, whilst others have a dog or a cat. My husband and I even enjoy caring for wildlife in our garden such as the birds and our nightly hedgehog visitors – all of which can have similar benefits to our wellbeing. Pets can also help other family members too. For example, they can be great for your children as they can learn the skills associated with responsibility and, from a young age, can develop their communication skills and widen their vocabulary as they chat to or about the pet. Even visiting an elderly relative with your dog or cat can be wonderful to enable them to find meaning and joy in their life. I’m sure you can bring to mind may other benefits too so feel free to share them in the comments.