Dogs, cats, fish, horses – can our pets help reduce stress levels? Dr Margit Gabriele Muller reveals 12 ways your pet is boosting your wellbeing
Welcome to lockdown 2.0. The world is entering a ‘mental health tsunami’ due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, according to the UK’s Royal College of Psychiatrists.
So, how can we boost our wellbeing and reduce our stress levels in these challenging times?
According to leading vet and life coach Dr Margit Gabriele Muller, our pets are here to help us and support us through the tougher times.
In her fascinating new book, Your Pet Your Pill, Dr Margit reveals the scientifically proven mental and physical health benefits that all pets including cats, dogs, snakes, birds and even fish – can provide for their owners.
Dr Margit herself has a staggering total of 23 pets and partly credits them for her own happiness and remarkable career.
So without further ado, here are 12 ways your pet is improving your wellbeing and reducing your stress levels.
#1 Pets chase away our loneliness
Feeling lonely in lockdown? You are not alone.
Due to an ageing population and decreasing family bonds in many countries worldwide, loneliness has become a major issue in our modern world with research showing that loneliness leads to reduced physical health.
One particular study found that 61 per cent of participants either felt lonely or socially isolated. A whopping 89 per cent of the same survey said they had pet and confirmed that their pet has helped them feel less lonely.
In general, people with pets say they that they have a positive impact on their feelings of loneliness.
#2 Pets fulfil our social needs
We all have social needs that we need to have fulfilled to live a happy life and feel good. Owning a dog is the way to it, according to a study, which reports that dog owners have their social needs more fulfilled than people without pets.
The survey established a clear and unique link between owner well-being and their social needs fulfilment though their dog – and even to a higher extent than through their human relations.
Interestingly, the support the pets provided to the owners didn’t compete with the support from other relationships and actually even complemented it.
#3 Pets improve our mental health
Mental health is becoming a growing health concern with one in four people in the UK suffering from mental health problems each year, with young women especially at risk, yet only one in eight get medical treatment.
The good news is that pets can support our mental health. Indeed, 26 per cent of pet owners stated that they got a pet because they knew it is good for mental health.
a whopping 87 per cent of cat owners cited the positive impact of their cat on their well-being
In respondents over 55 years old, the percentage was almost double with 55 per cent saying they got a pet to health prevent mental health problems.
The study concluded that a whopping 87 per cent of cat owners cited the positive impact of their cat on their well-being. Some 76 per cent claimed they could cope with everyday life much better due to their feline companions.
#4 Pets can help our depression
Pets in general have been shown to be effective antidotes to depression. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be a clinical form of depression.
Sometimes we suffer from mood swings and look at everything around us in a negative way. In a survey of hospital patients, 90 per cent of respondents said that spending time with pets improved their mood.
#5 Pets give us a happy hormone boost
Do you want to be happy? Then you need more feel good hormones. The ‘happy hormone’, dopamine is responsible for us experiencing happiness and for enhancing our pleasure.
After just five minutes with an animal, some people experience an increased output of those hormones. Women can even benefit more from the physical interaction than men.
#6 Pets reduce your pain
Need a natural painkiller? Even five minutes with an animal increases our level of endorphins.
Endorphins are natural hormones produced by the body. Their chemical structure is similar to that of the drug morphine; they are therefore considered natural painkillers.
Their function is to activate opioid receptors in the brain, thus reducing pain.
#7 Pets lower our blood pressure
The American Heart Association, regards dog ownership as a possible causal role in reducing blood pressure.
Owners of dogs showed significantly reduced systolic blood pressure compared with people who did own dogs.
However, you do not have to play with a pet to significantly lower your blood pressure. Even watching fish in a tank versus a bare wall for thirty minutes will do the trick!
#8 Pets protect our hearts
Our pets, and especially dogs, can be our life savers. Our pets can lower our triglyceride levels by almost half.
Pets are well-known to have a beneficial impact on cardiovascular diseases with a 36 per cent lower cardiovascular disease risks in dog owners. But they can do even more for us. Pets can help us to reduce the mortality from cardiovascular disease by one quarter.
36 per cent lower cardiovascular disease risks in dog owners
A study revealed that one year after a heart attack, only 3 per cent of dog owners had died compared with 28 per cent non-dog owners. Even our stroke risk is diminished.
#9 Pets reduce your stress
Stress is one of the major factors for poor health and unhappiness. Many physiological ailments derive from stress, which negatively impacts our lives.
A study found that people working on a stressful task experienced significantly less stress when their pets were with them than when a spouse, family member, or close friend was nearby.
A pet, especially a dog, helps people reduce their perceived stress compared with people without pets. Additionally, pets in the workplace buffer the impact of stress during the workday for their owners.
#10 Pets bring our stress hormones down
When we are very stressed, our stress hormone cortisol increases. A study of women showed that their cortisol levels were significantly decreased when interacting with dogs. It might take even only ten minutes of stroking a pet to reduce the cortisol.
Moreover, oxytocin can reduce stress and increase pain tolerance. Both, humans and dogs can benefit from increased levels of the ‘love’ hormone oxytocin though social interaction of humans and dogs even with a little as three minutes stroking of a dog.
Therefore, pets are our best de-stress boosts!
#11 Pets are your best laughing medicine
This common saying ‘Laughter is the best medicine’ is true. Laughter reduces our stress, depression, anxiety, and pain.
More dog owners than cat owners laugh spontaneously in the presence of their pets
The beneficial impact of laughter on the immune system is well known. Researchers have learned that dog owners laugh more frequently than people without pets. People who own both dogs and cats laugh even more. More dog owners than cat owners laugh spontaneously in the presence of their pets.
If you need more laughter in your life, get a dog; the fun will never end.
#12 Pets help us sleep better
Do you suffer from poor sleep? Get a pet.
A study shows that 56 per cent of pet owners allow their pets to sleep in the bedroom. Of those, 41 per cent do not feel disturbed by their pets and have even noticed they sleep better. Sleep improves more when a pet is in the room, but not in the bed.
Do you think you sleep better with your partner in your bed? Think twice, because research shows that a cat in the bed helps us sleep better than your partner does; this is especially true for women. One reason for this? Cats love to snuggle with their humans.
56 per cent of pet owners allow their pets to sleep in the bedroom
Whether in lockdown or not, pets improve our physical and mental wellbeing to a tremendous extent.
Why spend money on expensive wellness treatments that just last one hour or a day? Our pets are not just our best friends and companions, they are also our best wellness retreats for life!