New research has shown just how important pets are to our lives, from providing companionship to offering physical and mental health support.
More than half of people admit that they pet increases their happiness (57%) and helps relieve stress/anxiety (56%), while 43% admit a cat, dog or rabbit increases physical activity and 17% say having a pet improves self-confidence.
However, some pets provide all this and more, with around 7000 disabled people in the UK relying on an assistance dog to help them with everyday tasks.
There are also a further 4,500 dogs who visit hospitals, residential nursing homes, day care centres, hospices and special needs schools, as part of the charity, Pets As Therapy.
Now vets are looking to celebrate those everyday pet heroes, including a dog who kept his owner out of hospital, a dog who helped a little boy make friends and a bird who literally saved his owner’s life.
Dr Huw Stacey, vet and director of clinical services at Vets4Pets, said: “We treat hundreds of thousands of pets every year, and so often hear remarkable and heart-warming stories of pets doing something extraordinary.
“For most owners their pets are an important member of the family and a source of companionship but, for some, their pet is a lifeline and a one-of-a-kind hero as well. Dogs are great at getting people out and about and improving self-confidence. They are also very intelligent, which mean many make ideal assistance and therapy pets.
“We’ve heard about pets helping those with illnesses or disabilities from our practices, as well as from charities like Medical Detection Dogs, who train pets to provide vital support to those in need.”
Michelle from East Yorkshire, and Geneve from Leicestershire, have experienced this first-hand as both their dogs are trained to help them with their health conditions and improve their quality of life.
In Michele’s case her medical alert assistance dog, Clive helps to keep her out of hospital and has allowed her to go back to work, whilst Geneve’s dog Poppy gives her the confidence to leave the house and helps her with numerous everyday jobs around the home.
Dr Stacey continues: “Pets have also been recognised for helping with people’s mental health and wellbeing for many years, with numerous studies looking into the positive effects of pet ownership.
“They can help with depression and loneliness through their companionship, increase physical exercise and socialising through walking, and even just stroking a pet has been said to relieve stress and anxiety, as it can reduce blood pressure and heart rate.
“At Vets4Pets, we recently carried out some research which found that pet ownership resulted in 57% of people experiencing increased happiness and 56% experiencing reductions in stress and anxiety. Therefore, it’s understandable that pets are often perfect for helping to bring some joy to those in need of a smile, something charities such as Pets as Therapy work hard to achieve every day.”
Lianne from Cardiff has seen what a positive impact pets can have on their owner’s lives as her dog Ronnie has helped her son Tommos, who has autism, become a more confident and sociable boy, even helping him to make friends.
Dr Stacey added: “Pets can make a huge difference to people’s lives, helping to improve their mental health or quality through irreplaceable support, but sometimes they can also literally save our lives.
“More often than not pets can sense when things are about to happen, such as storms or thunder, as their senses are far more heightened than humans. There are many cases when pets have alerted people to dangers, therefore saving their life.
“Its great to see how many remarkable pets there are across the UK and how special they are to their families. Pets are everyday heroes to owners, but sometimes there are pets that go above and beyond and it’s great to be able to celebrate this.”