Ever since I was born I’ve always had a lot of pets. There’s animal lovers on both sides of my family and so from furry to feathered to scaly, I’ve always been around a variety of pets. I guess this is why I never really thought about the relation between pets and mental health because I had no ‘before pets’ status to compare it to, but it’s obvious to millions of us that there’s such a strong connection there.
Along with my own experiences, I asked you lovely bunch how your animal friends affect your mental health and you were all too happy to wax lyrical about your fuzz babies. It turns out there’s a whole side to this bond I’d never even noticed.
So let’s talk about mental health, moggies, mutts and all that’s in between.
Companionship is a massive part of what makes having a pet so rewarding. People used to look at me with skepticism when I said I my terrapin, Bobzilla, was my best friend. But he really way. For 7 years he sat in his tank at the end of my bed and cheered me up with his wiggly little swim and beautiful grumpy face. He’d potter along my legs when I was feeling lonely and, in exchange for blood worms and bits of fruit, would listen to me drone on about my teenage problems. It didn’t matter if I was projecting a personality onto him bigger than his little shell could probably contain, he made me smile and feel understood.
Growing up my cats and dogs were always a massive source of comfort. They were soft and cuddly and would purr or yip with glee when we played. They made me feel needed and valued in times where I felt low or lost. They helped me belong in times where not a whole lot made sense.
Obviously when putting the question out on social media I got a lot of similar responses, but what I hadn’t realised was just how in tune our animals were with our moods and emotions. One follower told me about how her pets can predict her panic attacks, picking up in her vibes of stress and anxiety and comforting her before she even knows she’s about to have one. This wasn’t the only case. Some people’s pets become more attentive before depressive episodes, like they can smell the change in our emotions before we ourselves have become aware of them. It shouldn’t be a surprise. Dogs have been known to recognise fits before they hit and even smell cancer, so after spending so much time with us and building their whole world around us, why wouldn’t they be just as in tune with our mental health?
It’s not just comfort and companionship in hard times that makes pets such a great coping mechanism for us, they’ve been proven to reduce stress and promote exercise (if your animal friend goes outside that is) as well as help with social interaction. Afterall, who doesn’t love talking about their pets? It’s more interesting than commenting on the weather or anxiously grappling for another bit of small talk.
At the end of the day, having a fuzzy/scaly/feathered friend who wants us around is such a calming feeling. It’s such a sense of normality and routine when it feels like your head is a war zone. It’s a friendly face at the end of a long day and a presence you can feel from the moment you wake up.
Having a pet is so ridiculously rewarding I honestly can’t understand people who say they just aren’t animal lovers. If you’re currently struggling and are financially and geographically able to have a pet (of any kind – you’d be surprised how much you’ll enjoy talking to a fish!) I’d strongly recommend it.
And just because it would be rude not to, here are my two fuzz babies. They’ve helped me through a lot of crap and I know we make each other incredibly happy with cuddles, treats, fresh bedding and loud purrs.