Why we might prefer our dog to our partner!

Wednesday, November 11th, 2020


Self-care and animals

We are known as a nation of animal lovers and although not everyone may fall into that category there are certainly plenty of pet owners.

Unsurprisingly then that when we asked our staff a picture that summarises how they relax and manage self-care, the majority were of pets followed by some wildlife or larger animals. What is it about our pets?

Companionship might be something we immediately think of when we think of our beloved pets. Loneliness and isolation is a huge problem across the country and all sections of society. Loneliness can be experienced when you are not in an environment where you can be accepted and valued as yourself. Animals provide a constant, non-judgmental presence and remind us we are not alone and loved as we are. Reassurance can come from the familiar tweet of a budgie, the sound of the cat flap or fish shooting to the surface when you drop in the food in a world of changes.We might find a sense of purpose in the meeting the needs of our pets.

More specifically we could consider petting or handling an animal. Studies suggest that stimulating the touch receptors can lower blood pressure and cortisol levels and that cuddling and hugging can increase oxytocin levels. If you combine this with increased activity levels associated with, say, walking a dog or riding a horse the connection can be made that pet ownership could indeed improve our mental and physical health.

How does this compare with our relationships with humans? Well all the same applies really – finding people who accept and value you as you are, taking exercise, receiving warm hugs can have mental and physical health benefits. In reality though many of us live, study or work in situations where we are not always understood or valued for who we are. We may have people who are constantly in our lives or homes but we cannot guarantee their reaction or mood. We may feel we cannot connect as well as we hoped and feel isolated or may not feel they meet or understand our needs or visa versa.

Of course we have not mentioned the other side of pet ownership – the cost, the time commitment, the embarrassment when they misbehave (Fenton!) and of course the pain of loss. After a huge surge of pet ownership during lockdown, charities are preparing for an influx of abandoned animals when ‘normal’ life returns and the animal no longer fits in it.

Any relationship takes time, effort, patience and compromise. We are lucky to be able to walk some of that journey with clients and support them on their way.

*If you are considering getting a pet always look into the needs and commitment involved and possibly speak to a vet first. Ownership is not the only way to enjoy contact with animals. You can volunteer at an animal charity, help care for a friend or neighbour’s pet or consider working in this environment.