Author: Lote Steina
Back in 2017 I got a dog. At the time I was going through hard times and a pup seemed like a great companion out of a rut and towards a happier life. Looking back I can easily say that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Of course, there are the clichéd reasons of a trusted, loving, and reliable friend always by my side, but he turned out to be some much more than that. Three years in I am a clear example of a happier, healthier, and far more social and productive person than I was in 2017.
While it may seem like a stretch to attribute all those positive things to a little pup, it is no less surprising that it is almost certainly true. Dogs have accompanied humans since before the dawn of civilization. What is fascinating is that even in prehistoric times they did not just fulfill a practical purpose (hunting, guard duties etc.), but also formed an emotional bond with their owners.
Thousands of years later we have all sorts of pets and all of them have shown tremendously positive effects on our physical and mental wellbeing. In this article I’ll highlight some of the main ways a pet could make or is already making your life better.
The fact that pets have a positive impact on our health is already conventional wisdom. Here are just a handful of positive examples:
Reducing stress and anxiety. A stressful day at work is hard on anyone – we tend to become irritated, our sleep and appetite are affected, and we are more prone to isolate ourselves from others. In other words – a pretty grim evening. A pet can ride to the rescue. Whether it is through hugs, play, laughter, or simply being together, interaction with pets (especially dogs) can help release our happiness and love hormones.
Depression prevention. Pets bring joy, companionship, and a sense of purpose to their owners. These happen to be the things that most people suffering from depression lack. Even those struggling with post traumatic stress disorder (like veterans) are encouraged to get a pet to help them lift their moods and transition back to normal life. Pets can also serve as gateways to new and meaningful relationships that can erase feelings of loneliness and create social support networks.
Better physical fitness. Now this is another benefit dog owners will feel more than others. Since you have to take your pup out for a walk at least three times a day, the number of steps you take every day rises significantly. Since dogs are the most popular household pet in the UK and there are over 90 million pooches in the US alone, the number of people who are out walking their pets or exercising with them is truly impressive.
Better immune systems. Want to boost your kid’s immune system? Look no further than having a pet. Research shows that having a dog at your place in your child’s infancy, will improve the child’s overall immune system and reduce allergies. Having pets at home in general will significantly reduce the likelihood of a child developing allergies that are related to their home.
Childhood development. There is nothing quite as great for developing emotional intelligence, self esteem, and self confidence as having a profound and loyal friend in childhood. Pets fulfill that role exceptionally well. In addition, numerous studies have shown that pets have a positive impact on children with autism, improving their social skills. Even older kids can benefit greatly from having a pet. A University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center study found that teenagers with diabetes who had been charged with pet care were also better at managing their own disease, resulting in lower blood glucose levels. This specific study has broader implications as well – taking care of pets will improve discipline and sense of responsibility in children.
There are countless other examples of the positive effects pets have on anyone regardless of their age, social, economic, or relationship status, education level, mental health etc. Pets are the ultimate generators of joy and love. They never judge or discriminate. There are really no downsides.
Now some of you may have a bone to pick with me regarding that last statement. Surely, it is not as simple as that because in a purely economic sense pets are more of a liability than an investment. They need to be fed, groomed, taken to the vet, walked etc. In other words, it is hard to argue that something that requires anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars a year and generates no monetary value is a “no downsides” kind of an arrangement.
There are a couple of counter arguments to this right of the bat. As stated before pets tend to encourage physical activity, bring discipline to our lives, and reduce stress, anxiety, depression, social isolation etc. While it may be difficult to calculate the exact sum we ourselves derive from our pets, two studies help us get a glimpse of the global bill of sedentary lifestyle and mental illness.
Lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle cost the global economy $67.5 billion a year in healthcare and productivity costs and leads to more than 5 million deaths a year. A good deal of these negative outcomes can be avoided simply by exercising for one hour a day. A brisk 20 minute walk three times a day will make you and the global economy healthier! Dogs are a wonderful motivator.
For those who are already active and say that this doesn’t concern them, there is another, more important factor to consider. About 300 million people worldwide suffer from anxiety, about 160 million from major depressive disorder, and another 100 million from the milder form of depression known as dysthymia. Globally over 970 million people suffer from some sort of a mental disorder. A Lancet Commission report finds that mental illness will cost the world economy up to $16 trillion until 2030 and lead to a loss of about 12 billion working days every year. That is roughly like having the entire working age population of the UK constantly not work, not to mention the economic value the size of the entire Chinese economy not being added to the world’s GDP by 2030.
Whether those are the pressures of everyday life, past trauma, or the pandemic and its side effects, most of us are likely to feel our mental health deteriorate at one point or another. This could lead to lower productivity or even job loss. As we highlighted above pets are both a wonderful remedy to this and an exceptional preventive measure.
Both sedentary lifestyle and mental disorders are scourges of the 21st century. Pets are by no means the sole, nor the most comprehensive solution. However, for those who can make that investment, it is a relationship that will pay off handsomely and lead to a happier, healthier, and longer life.
If you decide to get a pet, that’s great! The challenging part is that you have to make a decision that will change your life forever. So take your time, think about it, and ask yourself some key questions. Here are four major things to consider:
Your surroundings. Where and with whom do you live? Do you have a house or an apartment? Do you live alone, with family, friends, or your significant other? Is there enough room for an extra housemate? If you do not live alone, consider the needs and demands of others.
Your schedule. What does your everyday look like? How much and when do you work? How much attention will you be able to devote to your pet? Do you travel for work or leisure a lot? How will a pet change your routines and are you ready for that?
Your health (and the health of those around you). Are there some animals/things you have to avoid? Do you have allergies? How about your family members or partner – do they have allergies? Are you struggling to leave the house due to depression? Do you have some physical impairment that limits your ability to move?
Your preference. Pretty straight forward here. Considering the aforementioned factors and narrowing down your pet options, which pet do you like best? Are you left with the traditional dog vs cat choice? Maybe you like birds, rodents, reptiles, insects, or fish? As long as you love and commit to your animal and it is happy with domestic life, go for it!
The final question is also the most important – are you ready for the commitment? Pets give their everything, but you have to put in your time and effort too. As I have said extensively in this blog post, that commitment pays off handsomely, but one shouldn’t forget that it does not come free. However, you will be hard pressed to find any other relationship that offers such a great return on investment.