Primary Care are delighted to sponsor the Dogs Trust and the RSPCA (www.dogstrust.org.uk and www.rspca.org.uk)
The UK is a nation of animal lovers and many of us know the happiness and companionship pets can bring and whilst professionally trained helper animals, such as guide dogs for the blind, offer obvious benefits to humans, more recently many studies have shown that pets can have real benefits for your mental health.
In 1859, Florence Nightingale wrote, “A small pet animal is often an excellent companion for the sick, for long chronic cases especially. A pet bird in a cage is sometimes the only pleasure of an invalid confined for years to the same room. If he can feed and clean the animal himself, he ought always to be encouraged to do so.”
Caring for a pet may even help you live longer.
Studies have found that:
- Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression.
- People with pets have lower blood pressure in stressful situations.
- Playing with a pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.
- Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (indicators of heart disease) than those without pets.
- Heart attack patients with pets survive longer than those without.
- Pet owners over age 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets.
- Even watching fish in an aquarium can help reduce muscle tension and lower pulse rate.
The routine involved with having to get up, feed, exercise and care for a pet can give structure and purpose to a persons life – even when they are feeling most low, they can take focus off other problems.
Pets also make very good listeners – they never judge, and are excellent for combating loneliness.
Dementia patients exhibit a wide variety of behavioural problems, many related to an inability to deal with stress. Research at the University of California concluded that a pet in the home led to patients having fewer anxious outbursts and suffering less stress. Pets provide positive, nonverbal communication and the interaction and gentle touch from a well trained docile animal can help soothe a Dementia patient and decrease aggressive behaviour.
For the elderly a pet can often help them find meaning and joy in life, boosting morale and optimism. Adopting a ‘rescue’ pet can add to that a sense of fulfilment. Pet ownership can also be a great way of staying connected and maintaining a social life, dogs are especially a great way for people to meet new friends and spark conversations.
Autistic children often rely on nonverbal cues to communicate, just as pets do.
- Learning to connect with a pet can sometimes help an Autistic child with human interactions.
- Pets can help children with learning difficulties learn how to regulate stress and calm themselves.
- Playing and exercising with a pet can often help a child to stay alert and attentive.
There are a growing number of groups who organise therapy pet visits to hospitals, hospices, nursing and care homes, special needs schools and a variety of other venues. Residential services for vulnerable or unwell people often have therapy pets as they have a calming influence on patients.
As the author Julie Myerson puts it "Most of all, when your confidence is at its lowest, when you feel battered – by life, death and (especially) other humans – a dog will shove her nose in your hand and tell you, with conviction and feeling, what a really good person you are."
www.dogstrust.org.uk – Founded in 1891, Dogs Trust is the largest dog welfare charity in the UK. Today Dogs Trust cares for more than 16,000 stray and abandoned dogs every year at rehoming centres throughout the UK. They represent the reasonable and well informed voice of dog lovers and promote responsible dog ownership and welfare.
www.rspca.org.uk – The RSPCA are the oldest and best known animal welfare charity around. They were the first to introduce a law to protect animals, and work hard to ensure that all animals can live a life free from pain and suffering. They are on the front line, rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming thousands of animals every year.
- www.helpguide.org November 2014
- www.iancommunity.org (Interactive Autism Network) March 2011
- www.mentalhealthy.co.uk – Kerry Hudson