The Power of Pets

Apr 17, 2024

Nearly half of all adults in Scotland own a pet and with around 5.5 million people in Scotland that’s a lot of pets!

The benefits of having a pet in your life are many and wide reaching and when you think about those individual benefits, they are all markers for good mental health.

Exercise: many of the pets that we own require exercise, whether it’s walking the dog or mucking out the horse. Regular exercise not only improves our physical health but also improves our mental health too. Playing with your pet is not only good for them, it increases your bond and that has been shown to increase oxytocin, the love hormone in people. Getting up and out in the morning light can help to regulate our sleep at night and regular sleep, yes, you’ve guessed it also improves our mental health. Exercise and sleep are two of the most important foundations for regulating our emotions and managing anxiety and depression.

Routine: For people who are struggling with mental ill health having a structure and routine to their day can aid recovery. Pets need walking, handling, playing with and feeding at regular intervals throughout the day and week. When someone is in a period of low mood or debilitating anxiety, motivation and energy can also be very low. Not being able to do the things they want can exacerbate low self-esteem. However, at the end of a bad day being able to say, “well I didn’t clean the kitchen, but I cleaned out the gecko tank and the cat’s litter tray” can give a much needed win.

Purpose: Owning and being responsible for a pet gives a sense of purpose which, when you are feeling awful, can make a significant difference. You are needed and depended upon as a pet owner. Sometimes a person’s pet is the only reason for them to keep going and prevent them from acting on suicidal thoughts when these are threatening to overwhelm.

Company: Lots of owners report that the best aspect of having a pet is their company. Loneliness is a significant issue in Scotland and having a pet can alleviate a sense of isolation. Research has shown that stroking a pet reduces levels of cortisol and stress. Pets are  non-judgmental, they love you unconditionally and are great listeners. Think of when your dog greets you with a waggly tail  when you come home, or when your usually aloof cat deigns to come for a cuddle. Pets don’t care if you haven’t brushed your hair, or you don’t want to talk. They just want you as you are right now.