According to statistics, 44 per cent of Brits have been swayed by puppy-dog eyes and now share their home with at least one pet. And it’s not surprising, in a world where Doug the Pug and Grumpy Cat rule the internet, that this figure has increased 10 per cent in the last year alone.
But if you think you’re doing your furry friend a favour by letting them share your bed, eat your leftovers and taking them for a walk, think again. 85 per cent of pet owners believe that their pet improves their life, and recent studies have only gone on to cement what animal lovers have always known: pets make our lives better. Read on to find out why deciding to get one is arguably the best decision you’ll ever make...
They put you ‘out there’
According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, pet owners have stronger self-esteem than non-pet-owners. In fact, the pet owners in the study were more likely to be extroverts, reported feeling less fearful and were more socially outgoing than their pet-less counterparts. And, contrary to the ‘crazy cat lady’ myth, studies such as this don’t only cover the more obviously social pets such as dogs. Pets are natural conversation starters, so even if you don’t have a dog to walk at the local park, simple things like keeping a photo of them on your desk at work, waiting for an appointment at the vets or posting a photo of them on social media will automatically draw other pet lovers to you and encourage engagement.
...and lower your stress levels
Experts agree that simply stroking your pet can help reduce stress levels. In fact, some studies suggest that pets are better at comforting us than our friends and family. The reason? “Their unconditional love and the fact that they don’t judge us make pets the best support system during stressful times,” observes expert Arden Moore. What’s more, not only does stroking your pet make them feel good, it promotes the release of the feel-good endorphin serotonin in you while reducing blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
...which is great for heart health
“Pet ownership - particularly dog ownership - is associated with a decreased risk of heart disease”, says Professor Glenn N. Levine of Baylor College of Medicine, Texas. Several studies show that heart attack patients who own pets survive longer than those who don’t, but pet owners are also thought to have a lower risk of heart disease. Why? More exercise equals a lower risk of obesity, which has been associated with higher levels of LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol in your blood - a major factor in cardiovascular disease.
They make you more active
Pets are great motivators when it comes to exercise, though admittedly some more so than others. In a study involving more than 5,000 adults, dog owners were found to engage more regularly in physical activity than non-dog owners, making them 54 per cent more likely to reach the government recommended levels of physical activity of at least 30 minutes moderate exercise per day. But regardless of whether you’re dragging a toy around the house for your cat to chase or taking your dog for a daily walk, exercise is exercise and all steps count.
...and most importantly, they make you happy!
Nothing beats a good snuggle session with your pet, but did you know just thinking about them can make you happier? In an experiment published in the same Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study, participants were divided into three groups to test social rejection. Each group was asked either to write about their best friends, their pets, or to draw a map. Those who were asked to write about their dogs and best friends experienced an equal boost in happiness, while those who drew maps reported feeling worse.
Owning a pet is a huge responsibility. There are, however, plenty of ways you can still benefit from animals (and their adorable faces), without owning them, such as asking to spend time with a friend’s pet or volunteering at your local rescue centre.
If that’s not feasible, studies have shown that just watching cat videos can help boost your health. And with more than two million to choose from on YouTube, you’re guaranteed to reap the benefits!