From Fury to Furry – How pet ownership lowers stress levels

The article looks at how pet ownership is good for our health and lowers stress levels, with a special focus on benefits for families.

This topic is close to my heart as our own family pets (Little Bear and Mr Tuffy) bring us so much happiness. It’s also good to know when a Little Bear paw bashes yet another wine glass onto the floor (his favourite naughty trick, right before jumping into the glass) that it’s ok — he is good for my health!

In fact, the long-term health and psychological benefits of owning a pet are well-documented. This is good news for the almost two thirds of the Australian population who own a pet, especially given our often chaotic, modern day lifestyles. There are a plethora of studies that link pet ownership to better health and lower stress levels.  Dog and cat owners go to the doctor around 15% less than their non-pet owning counterparts. They also spend on average 20% fewer days in hospital.

Family with their dogPhotograph taken by Missy Moo Studio

Workplace stress is also expensive and costs the Australian government an estimated $15 billion annually. So it’s a shame Little Bear and Mr Tuffy weren’t present at the budget meetings this year. Pet owners have lower blood pressure, lower triglycerides and lower cholesterol as well as lower everyday stress levels. Pet owners also experience better cardiovascular health and have lesser incidence of mental illness such as depression, insomnia and anxiety. The simple action of stroking your pet has been shown to have an instant blood pressure lowering effect. Psychologists predict part of the positive effects of pet ownership can be attributed to the fact that pets give support to owners by providing unconditional love and non-judgemental friendship.

It is hardly surprising, given the above, that dogs are frequently used for therapeutic purposes in hospitals, especially in paediatric and brain-injury wards, retirement homes, schools and prisons.

Dogs are also an excellent way to stay fit. A study involving thousands of people revealed that dog owners get more exercise than the average gym-goer. You couldn’t get a more enjoyable, lycra-free way to exercise.

Walking your dogs

But as a new mother, the part I’m most excited about is the positive effects pet ownership can have for families and children. For a start, most families report an increase in happiness after adopting a pet and if you grow up with a pet dog or cat your chances of developing an allergy are reduced by 17%. This becomes even less as the number of pets increases! It is also an excellent way for children to learn about responsibility, caring and the development of empathy.

Psychologists in America have found that children love to tell their pets secrets and private thoughts which can aid in the development of trusting relationships. A good pet-child relationship can also help to develop communication, compassion and empathy. They also help to teach responsibility and the necessity for food, shelter and exercise.

Research also shows that kids with family pets have higher self-esteem. It has been hypothesised that having a pet to love and love them back and a friend to talk and play with contributes to this. Studies also show that reading aloud to a dog can turn a reluctant reader into a more confident one.

Kids with their dog

And in terms of child health, a 2012 study determined that children who lived with dogs were healthier during the first year of their life and had fewer respiratory problems and ear infections.

In summary, there are many advantages to racing out and bringing home a new furry friend for your health, wellbeing and family. However, the last thing you want to do, when you have the best of intentions, is to actually increase the stress levels for the family. Below I have included my top tips to ensure your puppy choice is right for you.

Top Tips for choosing the right puppy

  1. Consider the average lifespan of your chosen breed. Most dogs live between 10 and 16 years of age. Factor in any plans to travel, move residence, and the fact that when the kids move out you will likely be the one with left with the responsibility 🙂
  2. Consider the breed of dog. Some breeds are definitely more prone to health issues than others. Once you have a few breeds in mind, perhaps run them past your vet to ensure they are not one of the breeds that more frequently walk through the clinic doors. ‘Best in show’ does not equate to health, and some of the healthiest dogs can be cross-breeds, so consider a rescue dog where the actual breed isn’t obvious.
  3. Consider the expense – The average cost of a dog per month (when you factor in vet bills, neutering, vaccinations, routine preventative care and holiday boarding) is $100-$300 i.e. $1200 – $3600 per year.
  4. In light of point 3, get pet insurance! It sounds crazy, but it is just as important as insuring your car or contents — if not more so — as they are not replaceable once they are part of the family!
  5. Consider where you live, and for apartment blocks, check the building bylaws or check with the landlord. Also consider that pet-friendly apartments are harder to find, so consider your future moves as well.
  6. Consider that there are too many dogs in Australia, and this unfortunately means that many have to be put to sleep each year. Yet another reason to visit your local shelter or rescue agency.
  7. Dogs make you healthy, but are also very time consuming. They need training, walking, feeding and entertaining. Bored dogs left at home by themselves for hours on end can become troublesome by chewing, digging or barking relentlessly.

Abbie and her family

Kids with their dogAbbie and her new son Ashton with her cats Little Bear and Mr Tuffy

Top image by Charlotte Reeves Photography.

Dr Abbie Tipler, BVSc, MACVS (Surgery) Tipler, BVSc, MACVS (Surgery)

Dr Abbie is a Small Animal Veterinarian with 10 years full-time experience. Her passion is Small Animal Surgery and in 2011 she studied towards and obtained her Memberships in Small Animal Surgery from the Australian College of Veterinary Scientists. Although surgery is her special interest, she loves all aspects of General Practice, especially canine medicine. She lives with her family and two Ragdoll cats.