Can Pets Make Me Happy?

Do you feel down and want something to help you to feel better?  Did you know pets can help you to become and remain happy?  Let’s explore the reasons for this and let you see whether a pet is a good option to improve your mood.

Generally speaking, animals improve a person’s mental well-being and happiness.  Studies have shown, for instance, that dog owners are less likely to have depression than those without pets.  Animals can lift a person’s mood.  Just by them observing nature our happiness increases.  Other animals have specific roles to lift people’s mood or mental health such as Pets As Therapy (P.A.T) animals.  P.A.T animals go into nursing homes and hospitals to be stroked by/ spend time with residents and patients to reduce their stress and increase their happiness.  Variations of P.A.T animals have long been seen as beneficial with horses used to improve the mental health of patients as far back as the 1860s.  Today the popularity of P.A.T animals is still gaining support and increasingly aiding the mental and physical recovery of patients.

So, how do animals make us happy?

1. Increase the Amount You Go Out

Dogs and horses, especially, increase the amount of time someone spends outside whether that be via training an animal, walking them or simply playing.  Venturing outdoors increases happiness by allowing you to absorb Vitamin D, both improving our physical fitness and improving mental health conditions like depression.  Alongside this, the unique sounds, smells and sights of the outdoors may lift your mood by both changing your surroundings and giving you something to focus on.

Spending time outside with your pet could, in fact, be a method of mindfulness which is a technique used to by many to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression and low mood.

Tess playing
2. Animals often need exercise.

Examples of exercising with a pet could be walking your dog, cat or even a ferret or looking after/ riding a horse.  Exercise causes endorphins (feel-good chemicals similar to similar chemicals to morphine) to be released, thus improving mood.  Taking part in different exercises or activities will give you things to focus on other than your worries.

Exercising with your animal and focussing on them and what they choose to do will likely cheer you up.  So, exercise with your pet will likely create happiness through multiple avenues.

 

3. Animals help to reduce stress.

Studies have shown that stroking/ grooming animals in a rhythmic fashion not only appears to increase their happiness but also increases the happiness and of the person and reduces their stress levels.

Focussing on the heat, movement, and hair texture of your pet allows you to be distracted from your worries and brings you down to earth.  Also stroking your pet leads to a release of the hormone Oxytocin within both yours and your pet’s bodies.  One role of Oxytocin is to create a bond between an animal/ human and their newly born offspring, meaning stroking your animal not only helps to calm you both down and increase your happiness but also strengthens the bond between you and your pet.

4. Pets Distract You From Your Worries

Unlike people, animals only live in the present, not towards the past or future.  Spending time with your often optimistic pet helps ground you and results in keeping your mind in the moment.  You no longer become overly engaged with your worries or problems.

The effect of this distraction is aided further if you are taking photos or videos of your pets.  Here you’re focussing more on them and their antics even more, further distancing your mindset from any worries/ anxieties.

A dog is a great companion
Rocky, my parent’s dog, showing me companionship
5. Pets help to Reduce Loneliness

Throughout domestication, dogs have become very good at reading human body language and facial expression.  They recognise when people are feeling upset and distressed and often actively seek these people out if they are alone.

If you are alone and have a pet you can develop a lot of interactions between yourself and your pet.  These interactions have proven to help reduce loneliness, increase happiness and reduce the severity of mental health issues, anxiety and stress.

Your pet will also make you feel more secure and helps you to develop a routine for their sake which will help you to keep people busy, stay motivated and reduce the amount you dwell over your problems.  People tend o stick to routines better if they are doing it for others rather than themselves and routines alone, regardless of the presence of ainimals, lift people’s moods.

However, it has to be understood that buying pets just because you’re lonely is not the best idea.  All pets are a big commitment. When buying one you must be prepared to care for them for potentially many years to come so you must not view them as a way to resolve a short-term situation.  A dog for example, dependent on breed, can live to fifteen years old or more, Cats potentially longer and rabbits often eight to ten years and that’s not including the financial commitment.

6.  Animals Are Great Listeners.

Your pet is non-judgemental, can’t tell other people your secrets/ fears and often stick close when you’re talking to them.  You can talk to them without fear of repercussions.    Many find talking to their pets often helps to sort out their thoughts and so they can help you feel happier and it can act like a miniature therapy session.

I, personally, talked to my dog about my problems and talked her through topics I was revising.  It helped me sort through and analyse my thoughts but I’m not convinced she would have been able to sit through one of my Biochemistry exams for me!

7. Animals Provide Unconditional Love.

The issue with people is that if you do anything they don’t like they potentially will no longer care about you, though usually, this isn’t the case.  Animals, however, don’t understand the complexities of life or are concerned by material goods.  A dog constantly following you wanting a fuss helps to make you feel loved and therefore helps raise your self-worth and confidence, thus aiding with mental health issues and improving happiness.

8.  Animals, especially Dogs, Aid you Socially

When walking a dog you often interact with other dog owners and walkers.  Dog or animal lovers who are passing even without a dog are more likely to interact with you or your dog, increasing your human interaction.  This helps to increase your self-worth which generally makes you happier and more confident.

Having a pet allows leads on to discussions with pet owners in other situations such as at the vets or on pet-related areas of social media.  They also help by increasing your the social opportunities such joining dog walking groups, flyball and/ or agility teams and classes in obedience and showing to name a few.  People doing these activities share the common interest of pets with you so it’s a conversation starter and leads to you developing more friends and connections.  Having a greater number of connections reduces feelings of isolation,  loneliness and withdrawal which, for many, increases happiness.

Conversely, however, having pets such as dogs or horses is a large time commitment which can reduce other areas of your social life. For instance, dogs shouldn’t be left alone for hours on end so you may not be able to spend as much time out with your friends as previously.  Pets can also prevent you from booking that last-minute holiday offer as you can’t just drop everything and leave, you need to work around their needs.  However, with some thought can have an active social life and pets; go on pet-friendly holidays, employ a dog walker or pet sitter and invite people around to your house instead, with their pets if they have any. This plan means your pet can also benefit from more snuggles, not only keeping you and your friends happy but increasing their happiness too.

9.  Pets can Give You a Sense of Purpose

People with low mood often feel like they have little purpose.  However, the presence of your pet gives you something to do, helps structure your life and gives you responsibility.  You no longer can stay in bed all day; you now have to get up to feed, walk, play with and groom your pets.  Purely getting out of bed helps keep your mind occupied, helps you focus on things other than your problems and increases your happiness.

If you become overwhelmed by negative thought or anxiety your pet’s needs and desires will give you something else focus and playing will also further distract you.

Pets do not judge, unlike people.  If you help them you’ll be rewarded by their interaction and bond with you helping to raise your self-belief and lift your mood.

If you allow your child to look after appropriate pets they will help raise your child’s self-worth.  The presence of your pet’s unconditional love and companionship helps improve your child’s confidence and create a positive self image.  This not only improves your child’s happiness at the time but can potentially reduce the severity of mental health conditions they may experience then or in the future.

 

Reptiles improve happiness?
Studies have shown Crickets and Fish can reduce depression, can reptiles

 

10. Watching Pets Makes you Smile And Smiling Makes You Happy

Watching the funny and cute antics of your furry friends will lead to you smiling.  Smiling itself increases happiness.  It not only is an outward sign to others that you feel good but it also causes Endorphins Serotonin and Dopamine to be released in your brain.  These chemicals are present in, or enhanced by, anti-depressants and improve your mood.  So, think of your pet as being your own little furry antidepressant which doesn’t require a doctors visit.

11.  Playing with Pets Enhances Your Mood.

Most pets enjoy play.  Play is an activity associated with childhood.  As you grow you may no longer engage in play as much.  However, playing with pets takes you back to your childhood, improving your mood and reducing your stress.  Play also benefits your animals by creating mental stimulation and helping them to stay physically fit.

The same as with smiling, playing with pets leads to Serotonin and Dopamine being released into your brain, having an antidepressant-like effect without the side effects.

 

Having your Own Pet is Impractical?  How You can Spend Time with Animals

Though most people can benefit from having a pet, it isn’t always that simple.  With so many people in rented housing where landlords refuse pets, pet ownership can be difficult.  You may also not be able to own a pet due to the substantial cost of their upkeep, the commitment they require or you have health problems which prevent you owning any.  If these apply to you, all is lost, there are other ways to interact with animals.

Many animals are kept in shelters.  These all need companionship either in the form of fostering where the animal lives with you temporarily or, volunteering at shelters.  Both of these allow you to care for/ spend time with animals in the short term without the longer term commitments.  Volunteering not only helps you mix with animals but also increases your social circle which improves your mood.

Outside of volunteering, there are other opportunities to spend time with animals such as pet-sitting or dog walking which may produce some income; something that may further increase your self-confidence and happiness.  You could also spend time with a relative or friend who owns a pet or, some people even find simply visiting a pet shop or children’s/ city farm is enough to help raise their mood.

 

To discuss in more detail how a pet may help you to become happy, ways in which you could safely spend time with animals or the best pet for you the contact me or leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.  If you want to read more of my blogs then feel free to put your email in the box to the right.

Article 13, Brexit and Animals as Sentient Beings

On 15th November, MPs in the Houses of Commons voted against (313 against vs. 295 for its inclusion) an amendment clause (NC30) which aimed to aid animal welfare post-Brexit.  This clause would’ve meant that Article 13 of the Title II of the Lisbon Treaty, an article about animal sentience and welfare, was introduced into UK law.  The rejection of the clause lead to a backlash towards the government with headlines suggesting MPs don’t believe that animals are sentient beings.  The reports regarding the rejection of the amendment sent shockwaves across both the animal industry and social media.  But what does this all mean, what is a “sentient being” and are UK laws revolving animal welfare going to be substantial post-brexit?

 

What is a Sentient Being?

The Oxford Dictionary’s definition of Sentient is [to be] “Able to perceive or feel things”.  So a sentient being is one which can perceive or feel what is occurring to or around them and so they can experience pain and suffering.  A long-held belief by most in the UK is that vertebrate animals are sentient beings (with an increasing belief that invertebrates are also sentient) just like humans.  The belief that animals are able to suffer was noted by the Brambell Report investigating the welfare of intensely farmed livestock and commissioned by the UK government in 1965. The Brambell Report is still a cornerstone of animal welfare as it lead to the Five Freedoms still used by animal organisations today.

The Five Freedoms

The Five Freedoms state the following;

  • Freedom From Hunger and Thirst,
  • Freedom From Discomfort,
  • Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease,
  • Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour, and,
  • Freedom from Fear and Distress.

The Five Freedoms make up the basic guidelines for the care of domesticated animals in the UK and is what the Animal Welfare Act, 2006, is based upon.

 

So What is Article 13?

Prior to the introduction of Article 13 in 2009, animals being shipped only had the same status as other goods.  By this point the UK government was well aware of animals being sentient and able to suffer so, after much pressure from the UK and other member states,  Article 13 was added to the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU.  Article 13, which followed on from several non-legal treaties, and stated that all member states had to “pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals”.  The article expresses that wild and owned animals must be cared for in a way which doesn’t cause suffering. Article 13, however, does have its flaws, namely towards activities “relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage” whereby animal welfare may not be paid full regards.  One example of these limitations to the article is that in specific regions of Spain and France Bull-fighting occurs due to a cultural tradition.  This tradition is still allowed under the article regardless of the very poor levels of welfare the bulls face.  Article 13 also protects the practice of non-stun religious slaughter in specific groups such as Halal slaughter for Muslims and Shechita slaughter for Jews which both create animal welfare concerns.

So why couldn’t Article 13 Just Be Transferred into UK Law?

Article 13 contains the phrase “since animals are sentient beings” which, whilst believed to be true by many, isn’t accepted by every organisation throughout the UK so cannot currently be placed as fact, despite masses of evidence surrounding it.  Until the whole of the UK  believe this to be fact, the wording cannot be transferred straight into UK Law.  Also, article 13 reads that member states should “pay full regard to the welfare of animals”.  In the UK the wording “full regard” brings further legal concerns as if this were placed straight into UK law it would be at odds with other laws such as The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986.  Animals used in research covered by The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986, may experience periods of low welfare even when treated as laid out in the licence.  As these animals can legally be exposed to poor welfare this would be at odds with a law stating that full regard should be paid to animal welfare and so the two laws don’t function well together.

 

Why Does the UK Need a Law Like Article 13 Post-Brexit?

The UK’s standard of Animal Welfare is regarded to be amongst the highest in the world. Law’s such as the Animal Welfare Act 2006 in England and Wales (with equivalents in Scotland and Northern Ireland) ensures welfare remains above defined levels.  The UK also has a more stringent law around Animal testing (The Animals’ (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986) than the USA has. Why, therefore, does the UK need more animal welfare-related laws?

The current UK animal laws cover only domesticated animals owned by people (whether as pets, farm animals or research animals).  Wild animals are often non-domesticated and aren’t owned by anyone and so are not currently protected by UK law but are, instead, covered by the aforementioned EU law.  On leaving the EU, if the parts of Article 13 revolving wild animals do not become part of UK law, then UK wild animals will no longer be legally protected.

So do MPs Voting Down NC30 deny that Animals are Sentient?

Following on from 15th November where 313 (a majority of eighteen) MPs voted against NC30,  a lot of newspaper headlines and social media posts claimed the MPs voting against NC30 deny that animals are sentient beings.  There were campaigns against individual MPs voting against the amendment, some of which contrasted their vote against the notion with previous posts they’d made about their pets suffering.  People were confused and believed all the MPs voting against the amendment believe that animals do not have feelings and/ or are incapable of suffering.  Whilst this may be the case with some politicians it’s unlikely to be the case with all and posts MPs said over the coming days highlighted they believe animals are sentient.

 

So Why Did NC30 Get Voted Out?

After an eight hours debate a large number of reasons for and against the amendment were likely brought up.  There’s a high chance some MPs believed that the current UK legislation goes far enough.  This may be due to them not realising UK legislation doesn’t cover all animals leaving a large hole surrounding wildlife won leaving the EU.

 

Secondly, it may be because Article 13 doesn’t have the scope that’s needed in today’s world.  For instance, puppies are smuggled or brought into the UK legally from across the EU to sell to unsuspecting people, often via the internet.  The welfare of such animals is not currently protected in UK law and Article 13 doesn’t cover this huge welfare issue.  On top of this Article 13 doesn’t prevent religious non-stun slaughter or low welfare standards caused by cultural practices with animals in specific regions such as bull-fighting.  Maybe NC30 was voted down because it simply doesn’t go far enough and thus a majority government want to create a law which encompasses more than this.  I am sceptical of this optimistic approach as nothing was stopping MPs voting for NC30 but on the notion that it will be added to before becoming UK law.

 

It could also be due to the wording of the EU Articles compared to that of a UK law in that it was easier to restart the whole rule.  Saying that, if they were going to reject this amendment purely due to wording then surely they’d be doing this to all amendments passing from EU to UK law and not just this one.  Whilst the grammar around the suggestion that animals are sentient isn’t how it’d be mentioned in a UK law (as mentioned earlier), I don’t think they’d reject an amendment purely on that basis.

 

Finally, there may be something more of an unpleasant agenda for animal welfare on the way.  Pst-Brexit, the UK have to trade with countries outside of the EU for all goods. One major way the UK government is looking at reaching the demands for food is by buying products from animals produced in the USA.  The USA is economically greater than the UK and are able to produce vast amounts of food and will have no problems meeting the UK’s food deficit once we leave the single market.  The USA, however, often farm animals in a lower welfare state than the EU/ UK.  The cattle are raised on food lots with much higher stocking densities than beef farms here.  If the UK government introduce a law similar to article 30 then it may be illegal to purchase produce raised in the USA which is both cheaper and more readily available than what many other countries can supply.  It may simply be that the UK government are focussing more on the economics of feeding a growing population than animal welfare.  Though I understand that economically this may make sense it does mean a big U-turn in the outward stance the UK has given towards animal welfare to the global population. If the UK government allows lower welfare produce to be bought from the USA due to economic reasons it will cause great suffering to a growing population of animals across the world which is ethically and morally wrong.  This will affect the whole world given the supposed world leaders in welfare are at the helm of this economically driven decision and thus aren’t being the role model for welfare standards that they should be.

Sheep Dog

What’s Occurred Since the Vote?

The British Veterinary Association created an open letter which was signed by 1,194 veterinary surgeons (including myself), nurses and students and published in The Daily Telegraph on 28th November which gained the recognition of other newspapers and MPs.  A high-profile politician,  Micheal Gove MP, Secretary of State for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs replied to this letter.  Mr Gove stated that the sentience of animals is not under question, that MPs believe animals are definitely sentient and that regardless of NC30 being voted against (mirroring his vote), he will ensure that the sentience of animals is enshrined into UK law.

 

Though last month’s vote against the addition of Article 13 into UK law has the potential to reduce welfare across animals being traded with the UK, IF a new law equals Article 13 the welfare of animals in the UK should be protected post-Brexit.  Some of the headlines were misleading regarding the vote in that it wasn’t purely a vote against the notion of animal sentience but both the headlines and the vote will have damaged the UK’s reputation as a world leader for animal welfare.  Currently laws are introduced into the UK to protect animal welfare such as the presence of CCTV filming in abattoirs, an outcome of high profile campaigns.  Laws such as the presence of CCTV show that the government has at least some level of commitment towards animal welfare and that they at least reduce suffering in animal’s awaiting slaughter.

A Sudden U-Turn and Bold Statement for UK animal welfare.

At the time of writing, the government have just announced a draft Animal Welfare Bill stating the government “must have regard to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings in formulating and implementing government policy”.

So, what lead to this U-turn, within a month MPs have gone from rejecting the NC30 amendment to UK law to creating a draft bill which states that animals are sentient beings.  Note, however, this doesn’t state “full regard” as article 13 does suggesting that they may not be held as accountable for all impingements in welfare; potentially the importation of meat from reduced welfare states?  Though I don’t know most of the details of this draft bill it does sound like it is very extensive.  One of the main cornerstones of its proposals is a rise in the maximum jail sentence for animal cruelty from a mere six months to five years. This increased sentence is something which has been fought for before and lost but it being in the proposed bill itself is a huge statement towards animal welfare.

 

It looks like the pressure placed on the government through media campaigns, petitions and open letters may have won!  We can only hope this draft bill gets passed.

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