Article by Furry Hearts contributor and fellow animal lover Kasia McNaught
Did you know that the word for ‘pet’ in Ancient Egyptian means ‘my heaven’? This beautiful translation gives us some sort of clue as to why we can’t live without our animal companions. Australia certainly recognises the importance pets play in our society, with one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world at 63%. In 2013, it was estimated that there were over 25 million pets in Australia, with close to 5 million out of 7.6 million households having a pet in the family. Let’s look at a few of the reasons we love our pets so much.
It is common knowledge that there are widespread benefits to owning a pet that have a positive impact on our mental health and wellbeing. In fact, animals, and in particular dogs, are often extremely helpful when it comes to helping people who are dealing with high stress levels. A few examples of groups that experience reduced stress levels by spending time with a pet include war veterans suffering from PTSD, medical students who are stressed out from huge study commitments and children who suffer from anxiety and learning difficulties. It has even been proven that employees who brought their dogs to work experience less stress during the workday when compared to those who left them at home.
Apart from positively impacting our mental health, regularly spending time with a pet, even if it is just a matter of sitting and patting them, has been shown to help lower blood pressure and regulate heart rates. When we spend time with our fur baby we are at less risk of having a heart attack, our bodies release feel-good hormones known as endorphins, and there is a decrease in cortisol (the stress-causing hormone) levels when in the presence of a pet. Dogs also encourage physical activities and spending time in nature, which also improves mental health and reduces stress. Certain studies have even revealed that owning a pet increases our resistance to allergies and helps us develop stronger immune systems.
Another reason we cannot live without our pets is that nowadays we exist in a world where we are more digitally connected than ever before, but this often comes at the expense of forming meaningful relationships with other human beings. Social connections are vital to our long-term health, and pets are an excellent facilitator for establishing new connections and building social support.
It goes without saying that pets are considered to be members of the family. Since it is becoming more commonplace for modern-day couples to choose not to have children due to personal lifestyle preferences, having pets often comes in place of having a human baby as it offers the benefits of love and companionship without the overwhelming demands associated with raising a child.
Whenever I reflect on why we love our pets so much, I think about this beautiful, bittersweet tribute from a man to his dog, which is a short film called “Denali.” You can watch it for yourself here to find out exactly what I am talking about – just make sure you have a box of tissues handy! One of the quotes that really stayed with me captures the essence of what I am trying to get across perfectly: “When someone you love walks through the door, even if it happens five times a day, you should go totally insane with joy.” I cannot think of anything else that embodies pure joy as perfectly as the love and excitement our pets show for us every time we come home.
If only we could embrace this more in our human relationships, then perhaps we would live in a happier and more loving world.
Until then, we should thank Mother Nature for giving us the privilege of having pets in our lives!