How do pets improve our wellbeing?
Pets can make us laugh and provide a sense of comfort and security. They can also be great companions, and help to increase our physical activity.
But the benefits don’t stop there. Animals may also be good for our mental health. Studies show that being around animals can help to reduce stress and anxiety. Having a pet at home can also help to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation too.
Sheila, a Health Content Editor at Bupa, agrees and says “our cat is a member of our family. She’s relaxing to be around because she spends most of the day sleeping. Although she doesn’t need walking, when I make a cup of coffee I’ll spend a few minutes playing with her, or giving her a pet. It helps to remind me to take proper breaks throughout the working day.”
Animals can benefit our wellbeing in other ways as well. One example of this is animal-assisted intervention (AAI).
What is animal-assisted intervention?
Animal-assisted intervention (AAI) is a term used to describe different types of therapeutic activity involving animals. AAI sessions are used in lots of different settings such as care homes, hospitals and schools.
There are lots of ways that AAI can be practiced. Sessions can include the following.
- Stroking, brushing and grooming an animal can act as a form of therapy. Actions like these can improve our control of the movement in our hands, fingers, lips and eyes (called fine-motor skills). These skills help with tasks like eating, writing and picking up objects.
- Research shows that having an animal in the classroom can improve learning experiences for students. An example of this might be a dog-assisted reading program, where pupils read to a therapy dog. This can help some students feel more comfortable reading aloud, and boost their confidence.
- ‘Meet and greet’ sessions with animals can help improve social interactions. For example, a dog visiting a school or care home with a trained animal handler, and interacting with pupils or residents.
What are the benefits of AAI?
Research into the benefits of AAI is still ongoing. Overall, the evidence is promising, but more research is needed. But, animal-assisted interventions may be helpful for people of all ages with different health conditions.
Animals aren’t judgemental. They accept us for who we are. Because of this, many people might feel more at ease being with them, and share positive social experiences.
How else can animals benefit our health and wellbeing?
For many years now, Guide Dogs have been working alongside people who are partially sighted or blind. But, did you know that there are also other types of service dogs that can offer help and support with a variety of health conditions? I’ve listed some below.
- Seizure alert dogs can help people with epilepsy by letting them know about an oncoming seizure. The aim is that owners receive a warning in advance, giving them enough time to move to a place of safety and away from hazards.
- Some medical alert dogs can detect low blood sugar levels (hypoglycaemia) in people with type 1 diabetes. They do this by using their sense of smell to pick up on very subtle changes in blood sugar levels. This can help people with type 1 diabetes to adjust their blood sugar before it becomes too low.
- Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (PoTS) is a condition that affects the nervous system when standing up. Symptoms can include palpitations, dizziness and fainting. Dogs trained to assist people with PoTS warn them when an episode is about to start. This gives their owner enough time to find somewhere safe to sit down, to help reduce the risk of accidents and injury.
How can I spend more time with animals if I don’t have a pet?
There are lots of ways you can enjoy the company of animals, even without a pet at home. Why not:
- visit your local park to spot some wildlife
- join a friend on their next dog walk
- put a bird feeder outside your window, or on your balcony
- offer pet sitting in your local area