“Having a dog has changed my life. I get exercise, I get affection, I get unconditional love.”
The bond between humans and animals is ancient.
Spending time with animals has been shown to have many benefits to your mental wellbeing and physical health. Pets can be relied upon to be loyal and trustworthy, as well as a source of comfort. They have personalities, and for many of us, they're just like another member of the family. Pets often behave in a way that complements and supports us.
A pet can help us feel safer in the neighbourhood, which is vital for our mental health and wellbeing. They are also a great talking point at community gatherings and events.
Local pet enthusiasts and groups can be helpful in many ways. For instance, pet-minding services are very useful if you are not able to be at home or take your pet for a walk.
Pets can make us laugh, looking after them can teach us certain skills, and they can play a big part in boosting our wellbeing.
A closer look
Pets can be a highly beneficial addition to the family
Young people growing up around pets have reduced risk of allergies and strengthened immune systems. School children who are pet owners are more empathetic and socially connected. They also report greater optimism, higher self-esteem, and less loneliness, boredom, and despair than other students. Pets are great motivators for getting families outdoors, and can increase cardiovascular health and lower blood pressure. (Source)
Pets can have a role in formal mental health care
Labradors and Golden Retrievers are often trained to help people with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dementia, autism, and developmental disabilities. Confidence, self-esteem and greater social connectedness is often the result. Some researchers believe pets should be a main source of support - rather than an occasional aspect - in managing mental illness. (Source 1) (Source 2)
Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world
62% of homes in Australia have a pet (exceeded only by the US and New Zealand). 2.3 million Australian homes have more than one pet. 3.6 million Australian homes have a dog, and 2.9 million homes have a cat. One quarter of pet cats are acquired through a shelter. The third most common pet in Australian homes are fish, and birds come fourth. (Source)
Pets can have a significant effect in aged care situations
Pets in aged care situations show patients spend less time alone than before the pet was introduced, and they give patients something to talk about. Even people with advanced Alzheimer's who don't respond to people usually respond socially to pets. Older pet owners are shown to be less stressed by major life changes than non-pet owners. Even watching and feeding pet fish can be calming. There is a reluctance among older people to enter retirement facilities without their pets. (Source 1) (Source 2)
You might find online and phone-based mental health resources helpful. Some suggestions are below. You can find more with our Search tool (opens in a new tab).