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Best Friends for Life

Why are pets so good for our health and wellness?

Photo: Max, by Sarah Schimschal

Our pets love us unconditionally. They forgive us if we’re late home from work or too exhausted to play with them. And if we’ve had a rough day or are feeling lonely they always seem to put a smile on our faces.

Thus, as you may expect, research suggests pets are good for our mental, physical and social wellbeing. Let’s have a closer look at each of these in turn.

Mental Wellbeing

Our emotions play a significant role in mental wellbeing. Positive emotions such as joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love don’t just feel good—they slow down negativity. Further, positive emotions can broaden our thinking, opening our minds so we can see different perspectives and experience more creativity.

When we interact with our pets our positivity gets a boost. For instance, we may experience joy, amusement and awe when we play and exercise with them. It also provides an opportunity to be more active which in turn can improve our physical wellbeing.

Photo: Alaskan Malamute Puppies, by Sarah Schimschal

“Money can buy you a fine dog, but only love can make him wag his tail.”

— Kinky Friedman

Physical Wellbeing

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified insufficient physical inactivity as one of the leading risk factors for death worldwide. It is also a key risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes. Globally, 1 in 4 adults and 80% of the world’s adolescent population is not active enough.

Pets that require regular exercise, like a dog or horse, can help to increase their owners level of cardiovascular activity. However, even if your pet is a goldfish or rabbit it can still help you to be more active. The extra tasks associated with caring for a pet—feeding, cleaning etc., all require extra activity.

Photo: Yudi Susilo

Social Wellbeing

Pets can provide an opportunity to meet new people and form long-lasting friendships. For instance, when we take our pets to the beach or a park. In these environments, pets are often good conversation starters. Plus, we are more likely to be cooperative and trusting when we’re around animals. This prosocial behaviour is one of the reasons why many workplaces are now pet-friendly.

And we can’t forget about love! As depicted in romantic comedies like Must Love Dogs, As Good as It Gets and The Truth About Cats & Dogs, pets can bring people together. However, pets are not for everyone. Pets need lots of love, suitable shelter and, depending on the animal, regular exercise. They can also be very expensive. If you love animals but are not ready to be a responsible pet owner you can still access the wellbeing benefits.

Consider taking a friends dog for a walk (or better still, go with them!). Or perhaps do some paid or volunteer work for a doggy day care centre, pet sitting service, pet walking service, wildlife rescue service, local zoo or animal shelter. There are plenty of options to interact with our furry friends!

Need More?

Learn how to grow your wellbeing using an evidence-based approach so that you can thrive.

“Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms.”

— George Eliot

Also from Positive Legacies:

The Science of Wellbeing

Grit: Developing Practice and Hope

Grit: Developing Interest and Purpose

Originally published at positivelegacies.com.au

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