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Pets may help us reduce stress, says PDSA

For stress awareness month this April, vet charity PDSA is highlighting the positive impact that pets may have on our mental health.

PDSA Vet Nurse Nina Downing said: "Stress can affect us all – busy lives, financial pressures, and juggling family and work life can all cause challenges. In fact, the Office for National Statistics found that a third of adults reported high levels of anxiety in March this year. But as a vet nurse and pet owner myself, I know that our pets can help to reduce some of the impacts of stress, and that they really do help us through hard times."

According to PDSA's annual PAW Report*, nine out of ten owners (87%) say that owning a pet is good for their mental health. And 94% of owners say that owning a pet makes them happy. So why is this?

Nina says that studies have shown that having pets is associated with benefits for both physical and mental health. She explains: "Several studies have suggested that pet owners have a reduced risk of heart disease and blood pressure problems. And for anyone who already suffers from these health problems, evidence shows that sharing your life with pets may improve symptoms, give you a better chance of getting better, and in some cases even live longer!"

As stress can contribute to serious health conditions such as heart disease and high blood pressure, it's good to know that our pets may help to reduce the health impact that prolonged stress can have on our bodies. The impact on physical health was unsurprisingly highest in dog owners, with 86% saying their pet is good for their physical health, most likely due to daily walks. But even for cat and rabbit owners, almost half say owning their pet is good for their physical health, with 46% and 49% respectively reporting this.

But it's not just the physical aspects of health that pets can help us with, research has also shown that for some people, owning a pet is associated with reduced stress. For instance PDSA's PAW Report also found that 85% of owners said that owning a pet makes them feel less lonely. The ONS found that a quarter of adults reported feeling lonely, and chronic isolation can leave people at greater risk of stress, mental illness and other health conditions.

For many owners, pets provide invaluable companionship and unconditional love, providing daily interaction, a sense of purpose and daily routines, all of which can help to support and manage issues such as anxiety, depression and loneliness.

However, Nina does add a note of caution: "It's important to remember that pets are not a magic solution to fix all problems", she warns. "Pets are thinking, feeling creatures and are a serious commitment. Before welcoming a pet in your life, it's vital to ensure you have the time, finances and energy to take care of them and provide for all their needs."  

To take PDSA's short quiz on choosing the right pet for your lifestyle, visit www.pdsa.org.uk/choosingapet

Nina added: "If you've fully considered all the responsibilities involved, then a pet can be a wonderful and mutually beneficial addition to your family."

PDSA is the vet charity for pets in need, providing a vital service for pets across the UK whose owners struggle to afford treatment costs for their sick and injured pets. For many vulnerable pets, PDSA is there to help when there is nowhere else for their owners to turn. Support from players of People's Postcode Lottery helps us reach even more pet owners with vital advice and information.

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