HEALTH & WELLBEING: Animals improve mental health

PETS are important to our mental health, new research has found.

Research by Vets4Pets has revealed that nearly a third – 30 per cent – of pet owners in the UK got their pet to help improve their mental wellbeing.

People in the North West and West Midlands are most likely to get a pet for this reason at 40 per cent, while 67 per cent of 65-plus year olds admitted they bought a pet to help their mental health.

Dr Huw Stacey, vet and director of clinical services at Vets4Pets, said: “We’ve always known that pets are a great source of unconditional love, support, comfort and companionship.

“It appears that more and more people are now turning to pets because of the positive effect and contribution they can have on mental health.

“Pets are non-judgmental, are generally always happy to see and spend time with us, and make us feel needed, and so it comes as no surprise that they can have an impact on our wellbeing.

“Studies have found that even just stroking a pet can have a very calming effect on people, as it relaxes the body, slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure.

“Pets can also act as a motivation, especially dogs, by encouraging their owners to get out and about walking, which has been found to help with human depression, physical health and socialising.”

The research revealed that pet ownership contributes greatly to improvements in wellbeing, with 57 per cent of people experiencing increased happiness, 56 per cent experiencing reductions in stress and anxiety, and 42 per cent becoming more physically active.

Women are more likely to feel reductions in stress and anxiety than men are, at 64 per cent and 46 per cent respectively.

Three quarters – 76 per cent – of 45-54 year olds think pets relieve stress and anxiety, compared to 38 per cent of 35-44 year olds.

Seventeen per cent of pet owners also thought that their pet helped to improve their self-confidence. This was highest among owners in London at 28 per cent.

Jasmine from Warrington has experienced these types of benefits first-hand, with her ten-year-old cockapoo Lily, who she got while going through a hard time in her life.

She said: “I was going through quite a tough time with some depression and anxiety, so me and my family decided to get dog, to add a bit more joy and life into the home.

“Lily is probably the number one factor in my life that’s boosted my happiness and mental health.

“Opening the door at the end of the day and being greeted with the waggy tail and the feeling of unconditional love is the best. There’s just no other thing like owning a dog.

“Everyone’s experience with mental health and emotional wellbeing is different, but for me personally, owning a dog has absolutely changed my life for the better.”

Another finding was that a quarter of pet owners believed that having a pet increased their social activity and helped them become more involved in the local community. This was highest among owners in the East Midlands, at 29 per cent.

Over half of 18-24 year olds also said that owning a pet reduced their time spent on their phone, laptop or iPad compared to 14 per cent of those aged 65-plus.

And 68 per cent of people also said that they think spending time with a puppy or kitten reduces their stress.

This varied over the different generations with 81 per cent of millennials, 78 per cent of Generation X, 59 per cent of baby boomers and 58 per cent of traditionalists, as well as across regions in the UK, with 83 per cent in London compared to 59 cent in the West Midlands.

Dr Stacey said: “Although pets can have a great impact on our mental health, they are also a big commitment. Owning dogs, for example, can be a whole lifestyle to buy into.

“Anyone who is considering getting a pet needs to do research and speak with their local vet to ensure they are getting the right pet to fit their lifestyle.

“All pets need a good home, diet and companionship, so potential owners should always make sure they have the time, space and money for a pet.

“And if they do, then they and their new pet can help to boost each other’s overall quality of life and everyday physical and mental health.”