They’re our companions, our best friends and they can transform lives. In National Pet Month, it’s time to say – thank you pets!
07 April 2017
Now in its 27th year, this year’s National Pet Month takes place 1 April – 1 May 2017. Thousands of people up and down the UK are celebrating life with their pets, spreading the word on responsible pet ownership and raising money for their favourite UK pet charity.
Pets play a valuable role in our lives and National Pet Month’s main theme this year is ‘There’s a pet out there for you’.
While pets provide companionship, their contribution to human wellbeing goes much deeper. The message is clear – pets are good for people! Here are just some of the ways they’re enriching and transforming our lives…
Regularly walking your dog improves your cardiovascular health and helps keep your weight in check. It also counts as a weight-bearing exercise that strengthens your bones and the muscles around them. Time outdoors provides you with vitamin D, which helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body – nutrients that are needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy.
From cats to chinchillas, rabbits to guinea pigs – just stroking your pet lowers the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, leading to a calmer approach to life. Prolonged raised cortisol levels have been linked to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Health have both conducted heart-related studies on people who have pets. The findings showed that pet owners exhibit decreased blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels – all of which can reduce the risk of having a heart attack.
An increasing volume of evidence suggests that early contact of children with the allergens of furred pets (especially those produced by cats) may determine a lower risk of developing allergic sensitisation and strengthen a child’s immune system.
Being out and about with your dog means you meet and interact with other people – and feeling engaged with the world is an important aspect of wellbeing. Owning a pet can be even more life-changing for adults and children with disabilities or conditions such as autism. Dogs for Good is a charity that trains dogs to provide practical support – from helping owners get dressed and unloading the washing machine to reaching up to shop-counters – which enables greater independence. The charity also trains autism assistance dogs. Their presence helps to Introduce routines, interrupt repetitive behaviour and help a child with autism cope with unfamiliar surroundings. Having unlimited access to public places with an autism assistance dog enables the whole family to do simple things, such as shopping, which may have been impossible before.
Dogs are honing their special skills when it comes to helping their owners manage a range of conditions including diabetes and epilepsy. For diabetics, a sudden drop in the level of blood glucose can be very serious – something that dogs are able to alert their owner about (perhaps by sensing chemical changes in the body that give off a scent) before it happens. This gives a diabetic time to eat a snack to avoid the emergency. For epileptics, dogs can give advance warning that a seizure is imminent, giving their owner time to notify people around them and make sure they are in a safe place.
Via the dedicated charity Pets as Therapy (PAT), volunteers and their pet dogs visit thousands of people in residential homes, hospitals, hospices, schools, day care centres and prisons, bringing comfort and companionship to people who appreciate being able to stroke a friendly animal. PAT dogs are also improving the lives of people suffering from debilitating mental and physical health conditions and illnesses, such as autism, dementia and stroke, by being part of animal-assisted, holistic treatment. The charity’s innovative read2dogs scheme is even improving literacy in children. Specially-trained dogs go into schools to act as non-judgemental listeners for children who find reading difficult or stressful.
Dogs and cats often seem to be super-sensitive to people who don’t feel well. There’s even evidence that they can help people manage conditions – such as rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia – that cause chronic pain. People get relief when they put their hurting limbs against a pet’s warm body or lie next to them.
Indeed, the winner of the 2017 dog hero awards in the Friends for Life category at Crufts helps his owner in just that way. Bowser, a rescue Bull Terrier from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, has made it his mission in life to help Sally Deegan manage her multiple sclerosis – even rushing to alert Sally’s husband Ciaron when Sally recently relapsed and fell unconscious.
Sally says: “He’s so calm and steady and alerts me by licking my hands and arms, then sits by my feet. I didn’t know what he was doing at first, but I’ve realised he’s easing the discomfort as it dampens the nerve pain. He wasn’t taught to do that and he’s had no training in detecting medical issues, he just does it, which makes him even more special.”
No one loves you more unconditionally than your pet. Just spending time with them will help you feel calmer and taking care of an animal – walking them, grooming them, playing with them – takes your mind of your worries. And your pet will listen to you talk for as long as you want to. How many humans will do that?
Sources: nhs.uk, webmd.com, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3236382, animalplanet.com, yourhormones.info, sciencedirect.com, petsastherapy.org, dogsforgood.org, battersea.org.uk