Ask any pet owner what their pet means to them, and they’ll usually come up with the words love, companionship, loyalty, friendship. For many, they’re a valued member of the family, and for some of us, our only companion. Their unconditional acceptance of us, even when we forget to give them their breakfast or cut short their walk, is a source of great comfort. As well as the emotional benefits of keeping a pet, there are proven health benefits. Owning a pet:
- Helps boost our immune system
- Decreases blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Boosts self-esteem
- Helps improve our mood and our resilience
- Helps us cope with stress and anxiety
- Encourages us to exercise
For some the bond is even more significant. The elderly look on their pet as a vital companion. When children have left home, a partner dies or moves out of home for specialist care, a pet will help to stave off feelings of loneliness, as well as provide comfort and the feeling of being needed.
For the young, a pet can often take on the role of sibling, a playmate, a confidant. Pets can help bolster fragile self-esteem and provide confidence. Sometimes a pet can provide the closeness that might be lacking in some family environments or provide reassurance through anxieties or troubled times.
For others, a pet is also an assistant. Many dogs now support their owners in the home and outside environment as Guide Dogs, Assistance Dogs, Hearing Dogs, and play a vital role in helping to keep them connected to the rest of society and able to interact. A growing number of canine companions have been trained to support owners with specific medical needs, helping to alert people with diabetes if their blood sugars are getting low, signaling early of a possible seizure in people with epilepsy. Some dogs even can now detect and identify certain cancers with their amazing power of smell. A study conducted at the University of Minnesota of nearly 4,500 people found that cat owners were 40% less likely to suffer a fatal heart attack than people who didn’t have a cat.*
It’s really not surprising that the emotions of a pet owner around impending- or post-pet loss can be very intense and upsetting. It’s a reflection of the very great love and the deep bond that we have with our animal companions.
*Qureshi et al, 2008