A few years ago, I moved to a new town. In retrospect, it was one of the comfiest apartments I’ve ever lived in, but even so, it never really felt like ‘home’ to me. That is, until I got my hands on two kittens. Suddenly, my apartment got a soul, and I couldn’t wait to return home at night. Although those two rascals kept me up many a night…
How in the world did that come about?
The Pawsitive Impact: how owning a pet can improve your life
It’s a well-researched topic; the many benefits of pets. Depending on the kind of pet, the benefits can roughly be divided into four areas:
- It improves your physical health: This is primarily true when you share your life with a dog. The regular exercise and play your dog needs will automatically increase your physical activity. As a result, it will lower the risk of obesity, heart disease, and other health problems.
- Your mental health will improve: This benefit goes for just about any pet, although I tend to find reptiles and snakes just a tad less cuddly 😱.
If you feel stressed, anxious or depressed, spending time with a pet can reduce these feelings. There is something profoundly calming in petting and cuddling your furry flatmate. It’ll increase your happiness and well-being and at least attempt to chase away that giant black monster.
- It’ll increase your social interaction and sense of community: Having a pet can provide emotional support and companionship, helping to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.
- Your cognitive function will improve: Studies have shown that interaction with pets can improve cognitive function by stimulating and keeping the brain active. This is particularly the case in older adults.
Let’s dive deeper into these benefits.
The physical health benefits of owning a dog
Let’s assume you’ve fallen in love with a cute little puppy. And after a while, finally, you can welcome your new lifelong pal to their new home. You are over the moon!
Physically, there’s no way you can return to being a couch potato. Instead, you’ll spend hours showing your Boomer where they should do their business in the first few months. That is: not on your carpet and not in your bedroom. So, goodbye long sleep-ins, hello nightly walks in the neighbourhood.
You must take your dog for a walk even if you don’t feel like it. At least 3 to 4 times a day. This will get you moving!
And after a few months, when your little ball of fur is not so little anymore, it’s time to work on its condition. Think of long walks over the heather fields, the windy beach, or in city parks. Take a ball or a Kongo stick with you and play a game of fetch with your pal. This will guarantee they won’t move a muscle for the rest of the day!
Can you imagine what all this fresh air will do to your well-being? I haven’t slept so well in ages!
Of course, you could also speed up a nudge. If you like running, take your dog out for a morning run. Running together is always more fun than running on your own.
More of a swimmer? 🏄🤽 Think of the upcoming long summer evenings when you can take your dog out for a swim. Swimming is a low-impact exercise especially beneficial for dogs with joint problems. Take your dog to the beach, a lake or a pool and let them dive in for a cooldown. Then, join them for a swim to both your heart’s content!
Mental health magic: how pets can improve your mood
There’s something undeniably soothing about the warm, soft feel of their furry body against our skin. Yes, I’ll admit it. For me to find a pet to be cuddly, it needs lots of warm, fluffy fur. And no cute little hairy tarantula either, thank you. 🕷
We all know that pets offer unconditional love and support. They help us feel less alone and more connected. And petting our pet can help lower our stress levels and release feel-good hormones like oxytocin. So, reap those benefits and allow your furball to comfort you when you feel blue. Believe me, most pets enjoy this just as much as you do!
Spending time with your pet also helps reduce stress and lower blood pressure. Consider having your furry buddy with you on your travels. They can help you overcome anxiety in new and overwhelming situations. Being an autistic person, I find my buddy’s reassuring presence a lifesaver. They can be your gateway to a whole new world, helping you to cope with any potentially overwhelming situation.
There are thousands of success stories where the pet helps people with any mental disorder safely participate in social activities!
Research has backed these claims up many a time. It has also shown that petting a dog or cat can help lower cortisol levels, the hormone associated with stress. And as icing on the cake, it also stimulates the release of endorphins, the body’s natural “feel-good” chemicals.
And they’re always so happy to see you when you come home! Don’t say you’re immune to that kind of love ❤🧡💛💚💙💜
Building a buzzing social life with your pet buddy
Well, that’s an easy one! Having a pet on your side, you’ll always have a topic starter. And for introverts and autistic people, I find it much easier to talk about something I feel passionate about…
Some unconventional ideas to start socializing with your pet:
Consider volunteering as a therapy pet team, where you and your pet can visit hospitals, nursing homes, or other facilities to bring comfort and joy to people in need. It’s a beautiful way to give back to your community while at the same time giving you a sense of purpose and fulfilment. It’s also an excellent way to bond with new people.
There are several sports for pets and their owners. Try agility, obedience trials, or flyball, and see what it brings you and your pal. If nothing else, it’ll strengthen your bond, but it’s also a great way to meet other pet owners and bond over your shared interests. Not a dog lover? Not all of them are restricted to dogs. Try agility trails for ferrets, rabbits, horses, and even goats. Or let your imagination run wild and start a whole new sport with your choice of pet!
Look for niche, pet-friendly hotels or vacation rentals and plan a trip with your pet. There are many holiday destinations targeted at dog lovers. Usually, they have dog-friendly extras, and there’s always food for conversation with like-minded fellow travellers. This is an excellent opportunity to simultaneously meet other pet owners and explore new places!
Join a pet photography group or attend a workshop to connect with other pet owners and photography enthusiasts. This is typically filling two needs with one deed. If anything, you’ll learn how to portray your much-loved pal, and while you’re at it, you might find a whole new community of like-minded people! Who knows, this might turn out to be your new passion!
Suppose you’re not feeling that adventurous. In that case, there are many other ways where your pet’s simple existence provides ample opportunities for social interaction. Your daily walks, for instance. It can give introverts good handles to interact, build relationships and expand their social network. You might run into dog-walking groups and be invited to pet-friendly events.
And don’t feel discouraged if you aren’t into dogs, you’re not allowed a dog in the apartment, or if it clashes with your working hours. So many other species don’t immediately come to mind but are the perfect fit for your lifestyle.
Although our grey parrot and I hated each other’s guts, we spent many hours insulting each other with great humour. When I moved out of our family home, I missed him terribly. I found myself even replacing him with two parakeets. Who’d expect that?!?
And once, a friend couldn’t spend a single minute alone at a festival. Her secret? The two cute and playful ferrets she had with her! 🐭
Playing with our pets: improving cognitive function with every game
Playing with your pet, whether a playful puppy, kitten, or perhaps a curious ferret or rabbit, is so much fun! Trying to outsmart your kitten (a lost battle) or teaching your puppy new tricks (and then regretting it for the rest of their life) makes you feel alive and demands creativity and perseverance. And oh, the triumph when you succeed!!! All this does miracles for your cognitive function.
For starters, it provides mental stimulation. Training a pet, playing with them, and providing them with mental stimulation benefits your mind by keeping it active and improving cognitive function. It also enhances our memory, focus, and problem-solving skills!
And are you, like me, a queenager? Well then, pay attention! There are some additional benefits for us.
Pet ownership has been associated with improved memory and cognitive function in older adults, as it increases physical and social activity. And as you might have read in one of my previous articles, ‘older’ starts around 40.
It strengthens our brains’ ability to process information, improving our cognitive function, which makes having a pet incredibly beneficial for students of any age.
And as a final note: several studies out there show that older adults sharing their lives with a pet buddy have a lower risk of developing conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. So who can be against that benefit!
Now, take a deep breath and reflect
Considering all those benefits, I imagine you jumping in your car and speeding to the nearest pet shop. Don’t.
Remember, there is no such thing as a free ride. A pet has enormous benefits, but it also brings responsibilities and, I have to admit, even some disadvantages.
So, before you hurry to the digital marketplace and fall in love with the first cute kitty in sight, think about what YOU can offer THEM.
Consider some practicalities like:
How much time do you actually have? For example, if you fall head over heels for a Shih Tsu, remember they need extensive care. Part of it must be done by a professional, and they don’t work their magic for peanuts.
And while a parrot seems relatively low-maintenance, they do love attention. And without it, you may find yourself in a situation where your buddy is wilting away before your eyes, and you still have to find a new, better home for them. Not a good position!
If you don’t have that time, you could still go for a gerbil (or better yet; two of the same sex), reptiles (they’re not fond of touching anyway), a fish bowl, or a couple of cats.
Although cats usually see you as their humble servants. They do like your company, just not on your terms.
Nothing ever comes for free. So, after you’ve decided on the species of your dreams, collect information and overview costs. Getting one is easy. Maintaining them happy&healthy is a whole other cup of tea.
Think of purchasing and replacing necessities, equipment, toys, feed and other daily items, vet fees, etc.
Also consider extra costs for holidays, with or without your pal. In both cases, they need someone or someplace to care for them.
While the lifespan of a fish (2 years?), a gerbil (2-3 years), or a parakeet (5-8 years) is overseeable, a parrot can easily outlive you and don’t be fooled by the rabbit-like appearance of a chinchilla. Their average lifespan is around 35 years.
So, think of your plans; does a hairy cat or a clumsy dog still fit in your family life by then? And would you trust your much-loved python with your newborn around? (My answer would definitely be NO, but that’s my point of view 😎)
The easiest way always seems to be the average pet shop or online marketplace. But now that you’re aware of their impact on your life, perhaps it’s time to reconsider this topic.
Go online, have fun googling all you can find about your preferred pet, and see if there are special interest groups. Collect information, and not just the good parts.
For most pets, many enthusiasts are setting up websites, sharing their love for the species. There’s a lot of experience and knowledge out there. Everything to prevent you from buying a cat in a bag.
And at the very least, take time to consider shelters. They represent an opportunity to do the right thing by giving a left-behind creature a second chance at happiness&love. And again, lots of knowledge, care, and brutally honest information. Perhaps the 4-legged love of your life lives there.
Who knows? ❤🧡💛💚💙💜
With this final chapter, there’s only one thing left to say:
Please share some of your own experiences with your pet! I’d love to hear all about it, even if your preferred pet is a snake or spider (I am more of a cats&dogs person if you haven’t noticed yet)!
🦎🐁🐇🐠🦉🐌🕷🐐🦮🐈🐕🐍🐉Tell me all the juicy details of your adventures!