Whether it’s a dog, cat, guinea pig, bird, or even a fish, owning a pet can bring more than just enjoyment to our lives. They can also help to reduce stress and improve our mental wellbeing.
Although there have been several studies conducted on the physical health benefits of pet ownership, the scientific results regarding mental health aren’t so clear.
According to SANE Australia, a national mental health charity, although the findings aren’t as black and white for the mental health benefits of spending time with pets, the response from their community is overwhelming. People who have experienced depression or anxiety said that having a pet has helped them through challenging periods.
Psychologist Rachel Cohen from Black Dog Institute, a translational research institute that aims to reduce the incidence of mental illness, said in a recent article that “pets can help to reduce loneliness as they provide constant companionship and unconditional love”.
Here are some other reasons why pets can improve mental health and bring more balance to our lives.
The benefits of spending time with pets
Pets keep us active
An animal’s need to be active keeps us moving too. This is especially the case with dogs, as their desire to run and play leaves us with no choice but to take them out.
Cleaning a pet’s area, getting up to feed them and generally caring for their needs keeps us active. This movement and exercise has great benefits for our mental health.
Pets help reduce anxiety
Comforting or caring for another takes the focus off us, and pets provide a pleasant distraction. Some can even have a calming effect.
I once cared for a dog with extreme anxiety. I had such compassion and empathy for this animal. My desire to show love, affection and care towards him meant that there was no space for me to worry about my own concerns. Surprisingly, caring for an anxious dog made me less anxious.
Pets keep us company
Pets are our friends and loved ones. They even become our shadows. They are a presence that can make us feel less alone and make great companions to share our space with.
Pets hold us accountable
Why is it that parents often get pets for their children? It’s to teach them responsibility.
We are accountable to keep our animals alive, and they rely on us. That sense of reliance and responsibility can help give us a purpose.
Pets encourage routine
When experiencing depression, anxiety or other mood disorders, it can be hard to maintain structure or routine in your day.
Pets force us to become creatures of habit – they want to be fed at certain times, walked regularly and they may even have a set bed time. Their routine can encourage our own routine.
Office pets can improve the mood
Increasingly, work places are seeing the benefits of having pets in the office.
And it’s not just the owner who experiences value, as it eases their stress of worrying about the animal being left at home, the office staff benefit too.
Pets provide a delightful distraction, an interesting topic of conversation and their cute faces can ease the tension of a busy day.
My personal experience – owning a pet sitting business
When I started my business Lovelly Pet Sitters in 2016, it wasn’t just a way for me to earn an additional income while saving to buy my own home. It allowed me to spend time with these beautiful creatures and have the experience of owning a pet, while not actually being able to due to my travelling lifestyle.
As I work remotely, I’m able to care for the pets in their own home and be with them for longer periods of the day. When pet sitting, I’ve found that I create a better routine because the pets force me to have a schedule.
Best of all, they won’t let me work too long. Whether it’s because they want to be fed, walked or simply want my attention, a fluffy paw or a wet nose on your leg is a lovely distraction during a busy work day.
Pets remind me to be present, to smile and to laugh at the simple joys of nature.
Pets can change your perspective
Tess Colman has been a pet sitter for two years and loves it.
She first owned a dog when she was 16 and enjoyed having a furry friend to keep her company. She then began fostering pets at home three years ago.
Following this experience, Tess decided to try pet sitting and care for other people’s pets when they were away.
“There are so many mental health benefits when you care for a pet. Dogs force you to go outside to walk them. Cats tell you when they want to be fed. They provide you with a responsibility and routine because they rely on you,” she said.
Tess said she enjoys the companionship of pets, especially after a long work day.
Since fostering pets and becoming a pet sitter, Tess said she has seen a real difference in her approach to work-life balance.
“It’s so easy to get stuck at work but knowing that an animal is relying on me to be walked, fed and played with, it holds me accountable and forces me to go home,” she said.
Tess has also found that caring for a pet has made her more social and helped her to connect with others.
“There are very few people that don’t like animals. When talking about what I do now with pet sitting, people really respond to it. Most people get really excited and it’s such a great icebreaker.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, immediate support is available from Lifeline. Call 13 11 14.
TELL US: Do you have a pet? What health benefits do you receive from your animals?