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  • Writer's pictureSam Bethune

Why Are Animals Good for Our Wellbeing?



Back in September 2023, we welcomed a new addition to our family…a gorgeous, tiny little scruff ball that the children named Dash. This Cockapoo entered our lives like a sweet little wrecking ball and after a period of, what we shall call, ‘adjustment’ we couldn’t imagine our lives without him!  


It’s common knowledge that animals can improve wellbeing. In fact, in recent years there has been a rise in schools getting a school dog or engaging with animal therapy organisations to help with emotional support for their children.  


But why exactly do animals improve our wellbeing? Here is the science behind it…

 

Pleasure and Purpose

There are many definitions of happiness, but the one we come back to time again is the balance of pleasure and purpose over time. A life filled with pleasure, but no purpose, has very little meaning. But a life of purpose without pleasure is well… not pleasurable! Having both in balance over time is what equates to a happy life overall.


Getting stuck in with dog walks

Being responsible for an animal is perhaps the perfect illustration of this. A pet can bring moments of utter joy and pleasure. We see this daily with our boys as they play with Dash or when he relaxes with them at the end of the day. But having a pet also means responsibility.


The kids are learning how to train him, they get involved in feeding and grooming and of course, whether they like it or not, he needs daily walks. Seeing them embrace the responsibility of having a family pet (most of the time) has been incredible.

 

Getting Active

Come rain or shine Dash needs to be taken for walks. This means that without fail we have to get out of the house otherwise we’ll have an overexcited, destructive puppy to deal with! (Not fun!).


Since his arrival, we’re averaging around 15,000 steps a day without even trying. This guaranteed exercise is of course a brilliant way to keep our bodies and minds healthy. It’s no wonder that research shows that owning a pet such as a dog can help lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood stream).

 

Nature Fix

This brings us on to our next point - getting out in nature. With a pet that needs regular walks or time outdoors it means that you will inevitably get your daily dose of nature and vitamin D.


Amazingly, research tells us that simply being in nature – so not necessarily exercising - can have a significant impact on chronic diseases such as heart conditions, obesity as well as mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.


For more on this, check out our brilliant vlog with Dr Qing Li, on The Healing Power of Nature.

 

Community

Meeting with good friends for epic dog walks

Anyone who has a dog will know about the dog-walking community in their area. As creatures of habit, we will often meet the same people and their dogs on our daily walks and have already started to make more friendships – all because of our pet.


But what has really amazed us since having got Dash is how it has strengthened some of our existing relationships. We’ve been on long dog walks with friends we haven’t seen for a while, and we’ve even had many offers from friends and neighbours to walk the dog or dog sit whenever we need it!


Whatever animal you chose for your situation – whether it’s a hamster, guinea pig or pet parakeet – you will no doubt be able to find a tribe of passionate pet owners to connect with, either in person or online!


Having a pet has strengthened our tribe and as research shows, a sense of belonging which was once imperative to survival, is a core element of wellbeing.


Watch this short clip with Bruce Daisley, Workplace Culture Expert and Former VP of Twitter, where he explains just how important belonging is to our sense of wellbeing.

 

Emotional Regulation

We know that human to human touch results in the production of oxytocin, also known as the love hormone. This is the hormone at play between mothers and babies which promotes the bond between them. But did you know the same process happens when we stroke our pets?


Research also shows that when we pet our animals our heart rates lower and so does the production of the stress hormone, cortisol. In fact, a recent study in the UK on the effect of dogs on levels of stress in school children showed that the presence of a dog lead to significantly lower stress in children (with and without special educational needs) compared to the control groups.


We’ve witnessed with our own kids that in times of emotional dysregulation, having the unconditional love of a non-judgemental pet can provide comfort and support. In fact our eldest, who was far from a dog-lover, has begun to ask for Dash whenever he's feeling particularly upset.

 


So, if you’ve been considering introducing a pet into your family or school and weighing up the pros and cons, remember that the right pet for your situation could do wonders for your and your children’s wellbeing!

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