Companion animals provide invaluable, life-changing benefits to their caregivers. Their loyalty and unconditional love not only give caregivers a feeling of complete acceptance, but pets can also empower them to lead healthier, active, and energized lifestyles. Healthy pets mean healthy Canadians, and more healthy Canadians means a healthier Canada.
We want every single animal lover to understand the amazing health benefits pets provide their caregivers and how we’re fighting to keep companion animals and their loved ones together.
How do pets support mental health?
How do pets support physical health?
The mental health crisis happening in Canada (a staggering 1 in 5 Canadians currently live with mental illness) negatively impacts everyone – our children, partners, friends, neighbours, coworkers. Economically, this crisis costs us over $50 billion per year in health care services, social services, income support, and lost productivity. The numbers of those struggling with mental illness are rising year over year. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, an estimated 8.9 million Canadians (or 23% of our population) will be living with mental illness by the year 2041.
For many caregivers living with mental illness, the benefits of companion animals are that they provide a safe space for healing through their consistent unconditional love and enduring friendship. The presence of a companion animal has the proven power to reduce the overwhelming negative emotions that afflict those with mental illness (such as stress, fear, anxiety, depression, and isolation), while providing the body and brain with powerful chemicals that boost positive emotions. For anyone struggling with mental illness, having a loyal friend by your side who accepts you as you are can be lifesaving.
Animal companions…well, provide companionship. To those living with mental illness the world can seem like a very lonely place. A dog or a cat can be just the listening ear or shoulder to cry on we need to help us work through difficult times. There is nothing else that can combat loneliness quite like coming home to the unbridled enthusiasm of a wagging tail or the more subdued enthusiasm of a meow or a low steady purr.
Pets can be a great social lubricant for their owners, helping you start and maintain new friendships.
Putting yourself out there and meeting new people can be a challenge. Not only are our loyal pets always by our side when we need some extra love, they also help us create meaningful relationships with other people in our communities. Companion animals have a unique way of spurring conversations and connections between people from all walks of life. The line-skipping way that two people can form an instant bond over the common love of animals is one of the hidden perks of having pets. Simple errands such as picking up kibble from the pet store, dropping in on an obedience training lesson, taking an afternoon walk, or meeting up at the dog park are all simple, yet common ways new friendships begin.
Companion animals also provide a stabilizing routine and a sense of normalcy and consistency especially for those living with mental illness. Many pets require a regular feeding and exercise schedule. No matter your mood—depressed, anxious, or stressed—one melancholic look from your pet gets you up out of bed to feed, exercise, and care for them. Having this consistent routine keeps an animal balanced and calm—and amazingly, this helps caregivers feel the same positive effects too!
One of the most difficult habits to maintain is our commitment to a consistent exercise routine. The benefits of getting sufficient exercise for your long-term physical and mental health cannot be stressed enough by medical professionals. Research shows that adequate exercise is essential for reducing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and early death.
Taking a dog on a walk, hike, or run are a few great ways of sneaking in fun, rewarding daily exercise into caregivers’ routines and busy schedules. Studies have even proven that dog owners have an astounding 57-77% greater chance achieving sufficient physical activity goals and require fewer medical visits to the doctor.
Not only dog owners, but all pet owners, gain proven physiological benefits of companion animals simply from their presence (e.g. stress reduction, decreased blood pressure). The act of simply petting your companion animal has been shown to cause beneficial changes within the body (blood pressure regulation, release of endorphins) that have the ability to melt away all the stresses of your day. Studies show that pet owners may be better protected against heart disease because of the all the amazing health benefits companion animals provide their humans.