Give a little, get a lot back

We are a nation of animal lovers and it is not hard to see why; for all the love and care we give them the return is undoubtedly many times over. Charter Vet Antonia Ling BVetMed MRCVS explains that it is one of the upmost joys in a vet’s day to see the beautiful bond between a pet and their owner, as she explores below.

The more research is done about the relationship between humans and their pets, the more we understand how tangible the benefits of animal companionship are to us. One such benefit, which plays a part in all our lives is through the improvement of mental health. Studies have shown a rise in oxytocin (love hormone) and a reduction in cortisol (stress hormone) in people interacting with animals. Many animals increase our outside exposure and interaction with nature. And because many of our beloved furries need exercise, we in turn benefit from this too. Our pets don’t just help with loneliness at home but encourage us to socialise with our friends and neighbours and meet other likeminded people. Our pets are often more than emotional support for us in hard times they are family and for many a trustworthy confidant.

Children can also benefit from being around animals. It has been shown that children growing up with animals have fewer allergies and are less likely to develop asthma than those who aren’t raised with them. They also help to encourage time spent outside and away from devices as well as potentially helping to increase attention spans and communication. As most pets will help increase physical activity in some way, this can only be of benefit in the battle against obesity. Even the littlest of our pets can give children a level of responsibility and with that a sense of pride in taking care of their special friend. Animals can also help with bereavement, as they can be seen as non-threatening and non-judgemental it can help children (and adults alike) to open up. All of this can not only help with children’s physical well-being but also their emotional and well-being too.

Therapy and service animals now come in all shapes and sizes. Dogs have always had a special role to play with this from the well-recognised Guide Dogs for the blind, to assisting in disabilities and medical detection. More and more we are finding out ways canine companions can provide assistance to our most needy. But it isn’t just dogs that can provide therapy, cats and miniature ponies are providing important care in nursing homes, schools and hospitals. Animal assisted therapy has been shown to be particularly helpful in some people that have otherwise been resistant to treatment; it may reduce the need for medication and can improve willingness to participate in other therapies. For example animal assisted therapy can reduce blood pressure, help with depression and reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.

But you don’t need to own an animal to take advantage of the benefits they bring. Simply being outside and appreciating the bird song in all its glory can have a calming effect on all of us. Volunteering for local charities such as The Dogs Trust and The Cinnamon Trust is a complete ‘win-win’ and has the benefit of animal interaction and the feel good factor for helping a good cause. If you have space in your home you could consider fostering for charities such as The Blue Cross and Cats Protection providing some much needed personal care before they find their forever home.

So when you give a little time to allow animals into your life, it’s not hard to see how much you get back. This beautiful animal-human bond has been with us for thousands of years and it will be here for many more to come – enjoy it.