As well as years of joy, owning a pet can also have a positive impact on our mental health.

Trisha McCagh, animal communicator, teacher, and author of Stories from the Animal Whisperer, said there were many mental and emotional benefits to owning a pet.

“Just their presence can lift our spirits and help us relax, ” McCagh said. “They keep us company when we’re sick or feeling down and can make us feel safe while we’re home alone.”

Pets are also a mood enhancer, creating chemical releases in the brain, according to Kate Lindsey, veterinarian and animal behaviourist at Kalmpets and official ambassador of the inaugural Perth Pet Expo.

“Pets are the number one way to boost your mood naturally, ” she said.

“Playing or snuggling with your pet can stimulate the release of serotonin, the brain’s mood-enhancing hormone.”

Friendly human-dog interaction has also been shown to boost the release of oxytocin, the same chemical that cements our mother-baby bond, according to Dr Lindsey. “Other research has shown that when people are asked to perform in stressful environments they do even better when their pets are with them than with a human family member, ” she said.

McCagh said recent studies found people with dogs were more likely to accept change and deal with stress and needed less contact with their doctor.

“It was also found that dog owners have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, and better psychological health than non-dog owners, ” she said.

“People who have dogs show less depression as they have increased their ability to cope with life.”

Additionally, Dr Lindsey said pets could be the catalyst for social interactions.

“Pets can help you make friends — many studies have demonstrated that walking a dog in public leads to more conversation, ” she said.

Our furry friends may even act as our emotional coaches at times.

“Children can learn to express emotions freely with their pets and pets are calming influences on children with psychological issues and (they) guide friendly interactions, ” Dr Lindsey said.

For McCagh, one of the most important lessons we can learn from our pets is optimism.

“Pets teach us to think positively about ourselves and the world around us, ” she said. “They start each and every new day looking forward to something, however small, and we could do well to adopt this wonderful philosophy.”


© The West Australian

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