When you’re feeling flat, tired and the world is weighing heavy on your shoulders, you can always rely on furry friends to cheer you up. Whether it’s just looking at your favourite animal Instagram account to get some laughs in, or snuggling up next to your pet for some affection, they have an incredible ability to make us feel better at all times. So, how do our furry friends manage to give us such a boost?
1. Aussies and Kiwis love pets
You see them on your Saturday morning walk, sitting out the front of neighbourhood cafes, or cruising by in the back of a ute, pets are everywhere in Australia and New Zealand. We love them and the majority of us call one part of the family. 61% of Australian and 58% of Kiwi households currently have a pet – that’s some of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world.
In Australia, dog owners stand at 40% while 27% of households keep a cat. More than half (60%) of those owners regard their pets as family members. Interestingly, in New Zealand, cats seem to be the overall more popular choice (45%) having a dog (31%).
Studies have consistently shown that pet owners experience lower rates of depression, anxiety and stress than those who don’t have a fur friend in their life. So, just why is it that pets have such a positive effect on our mental health, especially when we’re having a ‘ruff’ time? Us pet owners would probably agree: one of the reasons is their unconditional love.
2. They provide you with purpose
Has your pet ever snuggled up next to you when something has happened to make you upset or sad? It’s like they can tell when we need comfort. There’s nothing better than cuddling up on the couch next to a furry, warm, best friend in those moments.
But owning a pet can also create feelings of belonging and purpose – even beyond those initial cuddles. This can be particularly important for people whose living circumstances suddenly change, such as losing a job unexpectedly, in sickness or during times of social distress.
In having a pet to love and care for, your day gains a meaningful activity. They empower you, reinforcing the feeling that you’re wanted and needed because of the important role we play in their lives.
3. They get you out and about
Whether it’s waking you up in the morning with a playful nudge or sitting in front of you with their lead in their snout and a waggy tail, pets love to encourage us to get outside. Regardless of whether it’s a long run, a leisurely stroll or just an adventure in the park, they force us to get moving every single day.
Whilst breathing fresh air alone is good in itself, regular exercise also reduces stress levels and can help keep the blues at bay during challenging periods – and your pet won’t tolerate any excuses.
A study published in medical journal The Lancet found individuals who exercised regularly reported having 43% fewer days of poor mental health than those who did not.
Dogs can also help connect with your community, chatting with neighbours and fellow dog walkers, which is a certain antidote to loneliness and social isolation. New dog owners soon realise that visiting the park with their dog is like entering a special social club they never knew existed. Why? Because pooches are the perfect ice breakers for a friendly chat with other owners.
4. The power of a pat
We all know when our pets come up to us, smiling and wagging, that they want a pat and a good scratch, but secretly we want affection from them just as much as they do from us. Humans are tactile creatures who love the connection created by physical touch. The warmth and reassurance of a pat on the back, an ‘it will be ok’ rub on the arm or a hug can have a life-affirming impact on our wellbeing in the short and long term.
Touch communicated an array of positive emotions, including love, joy, gratitude, sympathy – and a good old pat and cuddle with them on the couch can give you exactly that.
Whether you’re feeling sociable or sad, a pet is always great company.
They can lift your spirits and add comfort, meaning and joy to your day. Over a century ago, psycho-analysis pioneer Sigmund Freud already observed that “time spent with cats is never wasted” and it’s not for nothing that dogs are known as people’s best friend.