Lifestyle Benefits of Owning a Pet
How do pets make our life better? Well, adopting a pet can do more than just affect us mentally, having dogs specifically can have a great impact on the physical health of an individual or how their lifestyle as a whole, by influencing positive change. Pet owners are less likely to suffer from chronic stress, depression or anxiety and therapy dogs are used widely in the treatment of PTSD.
Increasing Physical Activity
The most obvious way that owning a dog can help is by increasing your level of physical fitness. Canines have specific energy requirements, based on breed and age of course, and therefore you will be more likely to be spending time outdoors and on your feet! Not only is exercise great for your pup but for you as well!
A study conducted by the Research Centre for Human-Animal interaction found that walking dogs for at least 20mins 5 days per week saw the individuals losing an average of 14.4lbs without making any changes to their diets!
Icebreaker For New Friendships
It can be a lot easier to form connections with strangers when you clearly have something in common. Hint, hint, your pets can act as a great deal breaker during the initial conversations. Not only will you have something guaranteed to talk about, but there are a ton of pet-friendly classes and ongoing social activities you can attend that will ensure plenty of social interaction.
Routine and Structure
Your furry friends will function best when they are on a schedule, and that means you will also have added structure in your daily routine. This means daily walks (speaking to all the dog owners), predetermined meal times and likely a block of time set aside for cuddles.
Pets Teach Responsibility and Compassion
This applies specifically to families with younger children. Growing up, my family always had animals and it was a great way for us to learn how to take care of and be responsible for something other than ourselves. We also became very empathetic people because animals often drive that side out of you!
Health Related Benefits of Owning Pets
A commonly asked question is how do dogs reduce anxiety, depression and stress? Or how do pets help your mental health? Now these questions are not tricky ones to understand from the surface level, but scientifically speaking there are explanations for this, specifically pertaining to dogs and mental health.
Pet’s Promote Touch
When we participate in activities that make us happy, this is the result of an increased release of oxytocin. Hugging is one of the best ways to flood the body with oxytocin hence, alleviating stress, and lowering blood pressure and heat rates. Physical “touch can actually stop certain regions of the brain from responding to threat cues” (Psych Central, 2019) which makes sense now, why petting our pets actually releases dopamine and serotonin, which makes us “feel better” and happier.
Increased Heart Health
On the topic of how dogs help humans, “Owning a dog can help you live longer” (Arford, 2020). Over the course of the years spanning 1950 to 2019, studies conducted have shown a correlation between a longer life span and dog ownership. Owning a pet actually decreases your blood pressure and improves your body's natural response to stress, which is a major cause of cardiovascular related problems.
Pets For Depression and Anxiety
Mental illness is cited as being the leading cause of disability in Canada, with approximately ⅕ individuals suffering from a severe mental health problem. Antidepressants are a form of medical treatment most commonly prescribed but "the companionship of an animal can offer comfort, ease anxiety, and build self-confidence for people anxious about going out into the world” (Lundgren, Robinson and Segal, 2021), which is one of the greatest mental health benefits of owning a pet.
When it comes to the correlation between pets and depression, there are a couple of ways in which owning a dog can contribute. Pets offer unconditional love and acceptance, which for many individuals suffering with mental illness is a key component to finding solace. This is seen in the use of animal assisted therapy for those struggling with PTSD.
Choosing a Pet
Each pet and breed comes with their own pros and cons and while there is no proven theory about what pets are best for anxiety or depression, there are definitely some factors to consider when adopting a pet. Here are some things to consider before making a decision.Your Living Situation
Where you live and who you live with may be the biggest factor in deciding what type of animal you are welcoming into your life. For example, you will need to consider space, do you live in a small apartment? Do you have a backyard? These are valid questions to ask yourself, seeing as many bigger breed dogs will not fare well in homes with limited space.
When it comes to your living partners, you will also need to consider their involvement in the process. Do you live with older, more frail individuals who may get hurt if they are knocked down? Do you have children? Are you or them at risk of developing allergies?
Your Time Commitments
Another big factor to consider is the amount of time you will be spending at home with your pets. Often, dogs will need a much larger time commitment, as opposed to a cat who doesn’t need the constant showering of affection or exercise. Granted you work a standard job, you will need to consider how a pet fits into your life considering you will likely be gone for the majority of the work day!
Unless you opt for a hairless pet, you will likely have to fall in love with cleaning, specifically vacuuming. Obviously longer haired, bigger breed dogs will contribute a lot more to the time you will spend cleaning but ask yourself, how much shedding can I actually tolerate? You may rule out a couple of options right there.
Ultimately choosing a pet comes down to understanding your lifestyle and being honest about the amount of time you are able to commit.
No Pets? No problem!
Not everyone can have pets. Whether it is due to financial reasons or living arrangements, there are alternatives to pet ownership that can allow you to still experience the benefits of being around animals. For example, many local pet shelters or vet clinics are usually open to bringing in volunteers. If you have access to a therapy animal program, that is another great way to stay involved with pets without actually embarking down the path of ownership.
Having a pet isn’t always feasible for everyone, but everyone should know about how pets can help improve your overall quality of life!