But it’s not always that we think about the hugely positive social and emotional connection pets have with our society. And while every relationship between animal and owner is unique, here are some of the many benefits that pets bring to millions of people the world over. We've also taken a look at how some former Blue Cross pets are changing lives for the better along the way.
Health and fitness
It’s true, pets really are good for your health – and the medical benefits have long been lauded. Having a dog improves fitness as it encourages you to get out walking more, and even playing with your dog or cat indoors when you’d otherwise be lying idle on the sofa can loosen up those limbs and get the blood pumping around your body. Horse ownership brings with it plenty of exercises too and is often used as a form of rehabilitation and therapy for those with injuries or disabilities. Staying fit and active, whatever your age, helps to prevent a whole host of illnesses, and pets give people that motivation to keep moving.Various pieces of research also suggest that merely stroking a pet can lower blood pressure, therefore reducing the likelihood of heart problems or strokes. Studies have even produced evidence showing that children who grow up with pets are less likely to develop allergies. And then there are dogs that have been known to sniff out life-threatening diseases. Pets are, undisputedly, the very best medicine.
Anything that encourages you to get out and explore the great outdoors helps to improve mental wellbeing, and in many cases, pet ownership does this. But, again, even when you’re inside, snuggles on the sofa with your cat, dog, hamster, or rabbit can reduce stress and lift our mood due to the so-called happy hormones, or endorphins, that it releases (these are the same chemicals that help to reduce blood pressure). That’s why pets have long been used to provide therapy to those in hospitals, care homes, and hospices.
In fact, Blue Cross has seen first-hand the therapeutic benefits that pets can bring. We have rehomed dogs, cats, and even ponies that have gone on to become therapy pets, whether that’s helping children with learning challenges or bringing comfort to terminally ill patients.
More than a third of people in a recent Blue Cross survey described their first pet as a best friend. Pets make us laugh, cheer us up when we’re feeling at our worse or are unwell and they are a non-judgemental shoulder to cry on. They never share our secrets and bring us comfort when we need it the most. Pets can become our soulmates without uttering a single word. They get us out exploring the world with them, and can even act as icebreakers that encourage us to meet new friends when we’re out and about; almost a quarter of pet owners recently surveyed by Blue Cross said they had met somebody through their four-legged friend.
For some people, pets aren’t just their best friends – they are their sole companions. Loneliness can affect people of any age, and pets work miracles in transforming the lives of those who feel alone and isolated. Owning a pet gives people a routine and a sense of purpose; a reason to get up in the morning. Older pet owners are also more likely to take exercise or play with their pets. This is why Blue Cross encourages all elderly care homes to have a clear pet policy in place and, wherever possible, allow residents to take their pets with them into care to prevent the heartbreaking prospect of giving them up. After all, they may also be the last link to a deceased spouse or happy memory.
Pets are carefree and live life to the full, so can be the ultimate role models for humans. They may also be more effective at motivating people to achieve their healthy living and wellbeing goals than celebrity workout videos and social media fitness experts, Blue Cross research has shown. Indeed, pets only drink water, exercise every day, sleep well, and - with responsible owners - they usually eat a healthy diet. Almost two-thirds of those surveyed by Blue Cross agreed that their pets would inspire them to achieve their healthy living ambitions. For some of history's greats, their pets have even been their muses. Who knows where the world of science would be if it hadn’t been for Einstein’s beloved housecat, Tiger? The physicist would spend hours watching his feline friend as he meditated his most seminal theories, which shape physics and astronomy to this day. And it was a lame sheepdog named Dap that inspired trailblazing nurse Florence Nightingale to enter the medical profession after she got the dog back on all four paws.
More than half of people surveyed by Blue Cross said their first pet taught them unconditional love or the meaning of friendship. Studies show that having pets during childhood can improve levels of empathy in youngsters and help to build up confidence. Research has even shown that reading a story to a dog can improve a child’s literary skills. Indeed, pets can teach people of all ages about responsibility and kindness.