Animals have been an important part of human’s lives for thousands of years. At first, the relationship was one of use: horses provided us with transport, dogs helped with hunting and cats would take care of the rats that threatened precious food sources. Over time, however, a bond was formed and animals were kept as pets for companionship and joy.
In addition to inspiring affection, tamed animals became known for their ability to encourage mental and physical healing. Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, recognised that animals provided a level of social support in the institutional care of the mentally ill in the 1800s. A study conducted in the 1980s found that petting one’s own dog could reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels. While more recently, researchers discovered that interacting with animals increases levels of the hormone oxytocin, which help humans feel happy and trusting. This discovery also goes a long way to explain the scientific reason for the bond between animals and their humans.
Caring for a companion animal can provide a sense of purpose and fulfilment and lessen feelings of loneliness and isolation in all age groups. They can even offer a sense of wellbeing, a sense of encouragement, and provide a reason for living. What’s more, relationships with humans can be complicated, but with a pet, it’s a very simple and non-challenging interaction that has no consequences which for many, including personal injury victims, is a wonderful space in which to feel emotionally safe.
The benefits associated with pets are not limited to dogs. While dogs do bring a lot of joy, many people are simply not in a financial or physical position to care for a canine. The good news though is that therapists have reason to believe that companionship with any animal has positive effects. Even a simple goldfish swimming in a tank has the power to calm. The colour and the movement of the fish in the water provide visual relaxation while the sound of an air filter provides soothing white noise. The even better part is that caring for a fish is relatively easy and is light on the budget.