Britain is a nation of animal lovers, and there’s no wonder why. We’re getting more than just love and cuddles from them — for those of us who are living alone, they are great company. Here, Kathryn Eccles from equestrian and pet supply store Millbry Hill tells us some of the amazing wellbeing benefits having a therapy pet can bring to your life.
The use of therapy pets and animal-assisted intervention (AAI) is a form of therapy that uses animals – usually, dogs, to help improve physical, social, emotional and cognitive functioning. It’s even thought to help individuals deal with various conditions or mental health problems, like anxiety and depression. Unlike service dogs, who are trained to help people with disabilities carry out everyday tasks, AAI and therapy pets are trained to provide emotional support and comfort, rather than physical aid.
AAI is not a new concept. Smoky, the first official therapy dog on record, was used to boost the spirits of injured soldiers and those recovering from PTSD during World War II (National Geographic). More recently though, AAI has been adopted by the NHS, who found that introducing therapy dogs into Southampton Children’s Hospital generally reduced feelings of anxiety in young patients who were waiting for tests and examinations. Because the results were so promising, experts have suggested rolling out the scheme across the UK.
And, although AAI is usually used in hospitals and care homes, the anxiety-reducing effects it can have means therapy pets can be great for a range of personal circumstances, too. Such as, for those who are living alone or going through a breakup. This is because AAI pets can provide a strong sense of companionship and purpose, as well as improve physical health. That’s why elderly people who are living alone often decide to adopt their own therapy pet.
Below, I’ll be going into more detail about the many benefits of pet therapy, and how having an animal around could help you on your solo living journey. I’ll also be going through some of the ways you can introduce pet therapy into your own life, so you can get these amazing benefits, no matter your lifestyle.
4 Amazing Wellbeing Benefits A Therapy Pet Can Bring To Your Life
1 Reduces feelings of loneliness
Even if you enjoy solo living, it can sometimes get a little bit lonely. Having a pet around provides you with a sense of companionship, so can help reduce those feelings of loneliness. Caring for them can make you feel wanted and needed by someone, which is especially important if you’re living alone after a breakup. Plus, many dog owners find that taking their dog for a walk causes them to socialise a lot more than they would without their beloved pooch.
2 Improves mood and wellbeing
Having pets around can also help to boost your mood and wellbeing. Living alone and feeling lonely can sometimes take a toll on mental health. But, since animals can help to stop you feeling lonely, it can also have some great effects on your mood, too.
Even just stroking a pet can have some great stress relieving properties which help to reduce feelings of anxiety. This can then help to lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases. In fact, cat owners have been found to have a lower risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, peripheral arterial disease and aortic disease, according to research published in the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology (NCBI).
3 Increases physical activity
AAI can also help to improve your activity levels and forces you to stick to a regular exercise schedule, as the health and happiness of the pet depend on it. Taking a dog for a daily walk or jog means you’re keeping yourself active. In fact, dog owners are more likely to meet their physical activity guidelines than those without a pet (Nature Research).
Regular exercise not only keeps you fit and healthy, but it can also have some great effects on your mental wellbeing, too. Just getting outdoors can help you to reconnect with nature and enjoy living in the moment, which can decrease feelings of anxiety and depression and can improve focus and productivity.
4 Provides structure
When you’re living alone, it’s easy to get wrapped up in your own needs and routine. But, having a pet can help to give more structure to your daily life. Simply getting up to walk, feed and play with them can really help give your life a sense of order and purpose, which can help to give your mood and mental health a boost, too!
How you can incorporate AAI into your own life
If having a therapy animal sounds like something you’d like to benefit from, there are a number of ways you can incorporate AAI into your own life. Of course, you could always adopt a pet of your own, or you could consider fostering instead. Charities like the RSPCA are always on the lookout for temporary homes for some of their animals.
This means you can provide a happy, healthy environment for animals to recover in while they wait for a new forever home. It’s also a great alternative to adopting full time, as it’s a more short-term commitment, but you’ll still get all the amazing benefits like a routine and improved physical activity.
But, if caring for a pet doesn’t fit into your lifestyle or you live somewhere that doesn’t allow pets, you could try other ways to spend time with animals, like dog walking or visiting a cat café. You could also get in touch with a charity, like Dogs For Good or Pets as Therapy. These organisations provide therapy dogs to a wide range of people and venues, so you can spend time with support animals in a way that fits into your daily life.
For some, living solo can sometimes be lonely. Luckily, AAI can help to boost your mood, improve your health and can make you more sociable, too. Plus, with so many different ways to incorporate a loving therapy pet into your life, you can get these amazing benefits no matter what your circumstances are.