Pets are good for our health (most of the time!)

Dexter our pet cat on our shed roof enjoying the sun

It may have escaped your notice but April is both National Stress Awareness Month and National Pet Month. If it’s a coincidence that both fall in the same month, then I certainly think it’s a happy coincidence as there is much to be said for pets being great ‘de-stressers’ for their humans.

Stress Awareness Month has been held every year since 1992, to help raise awareness of the damage stress can cause to our physical and mental health. They say that every generation feels the pace of life is increasing beyond what is manageable but it’s certainly true that the ‘always on’ digital age has limited our opportunities to escape! The theme of this year’s awareness month is ‘community’ partly in response to the fact that we have been able to do very little as communities in the last two years. Loneliness and isolation have been on the increase, with knock-on effects on our health. Clearly managing stress is an important issue for us all so this month is dedicated to help us do that better.

Perhaps this is where National Pet Month can come in? I am sure everyone who owns a pet – whether goldfish or Great Dane – gets great pleasure from them. “He always makes us laugh” “She waits for me to get home from work” “They always love a cuddle” are phrases we often hear said about pets. But it’s not just these anecdotal reports; there is now a body of scientific evidence that demonstrates how pets can contribute to our sense of wellbeing and reduce our stress levels. For example, stroking a pet releases the chemical serotonin in our bodies, which contributes to a more positive mood. This is partly why we see so many pets – particularly dogs – used for therapy in schools, hospitals and in dementia care. (And that’s just our mental health; we haven’t even begun to talk about the positive physical health benefits of walking the dog every day!)

Dexter our pet cat having a snooze in his play tunnel!

Of course, pets aren’t always perfect. I’m sure all pet-owners have some stories, but I’d like to share with you the story of one cat who caused me some stress, at least temporarily! I was called for an ‘emergency groom’ by a client. Their cat had come home covered in oil, nose to tail, from somewhere. They had two attempts to wash the cat themselves, but he was still covered, so the owner called me. I went round with some gentle detergent (the best option for removing oil, fat or grease from a coat) and took over their kitchen sink. All was going well until, somehow, the cat managed to wriggle a front leg free of my grip and reached for the first thing it could grab. Unfortunately, that was a slat on the venetian blind over the kitchen window. As the cat pulled the blind towards it, I watched in horror as everything on the windowsill – plants, vases, pots –  tumbled over the sink and onto the kitchen floor. The crash had the owners running in to see what had happened! Fortunately, order was restored fairly quickly. Nothing too precious had been damaged and I managed to finish getting the cat clean. But that was certainly an incident that I wouldn’t want to repeat!

Our pets can certainly give us ups and downs but I think most pet owners would agree that the ups are so worth it! Even simply having another living creature to worry about can take us out of ourselves. My remedy for stress would definitely be to get an animal. From gerbils to horses, and guinea pigs to fish, they will all add another dimension of joy and love to your daily life.