With Christmas on its way, we're all fumbling around looking for the perfect gift to buy our loved ones. Many of you might be considering buying a pet - a puppy for your family, a guinea pig for your child, a kitten for your loved one. There will be lots of things going through your head - are we responsible enough to take care of this fluffy creature, how much is it going to cost, do we really have the space, am I going to get clawed to death?? Very reasonable things to consider. However, something you might not have considered is how good for your health having a pet might be. I've written before about the season of s.a.d looming upon us, but I carelessly forgot to mention the treatment that I personally have found most helpful: fluffy animals.
Animal-assisted therapy is nothing new, though largely unheard of. Used for varying therapies, from in prisons to deal with aggression to nursing homes to deal with isolation, or, as I have found most handy, to help with depression, the unconditional love of an animal can be a wonderfully soothing thing. Here are seven reasons why you should consider getting a fluffy animal this Christmas:
1. They're fluffy.
No seriously. This is actually important. A pet snake isn't going to give you as much joy as a fluffy pet rabbit (also snakes give me the heebie jeebies). Really though, touch is an important part of pet therapy - there's nothing quite as soothing as having a cat purring on your tummy, or a puppy curled up in your arms. This shouldn't come as a surprise, studies have shown that we need physical contact with others to feel better, and where you might not have a person you can pet, an animal comes in handy.
2. They make great companions.
Who needs people when you've got a pet?! In all seriousness, depression can be the most isolated, lonely place in the world. Having even a tiny bit of company from a fluffy cretin can improve your mood masses and make you feel less alone. There's a reason why pet therapy is mostly used in nursing homes.
3. They love you no matter what.
There's so much less anxiety with pets - you don't have to worry about what they think of you, or saying the wrong thing to them, or whether they're mad at you - you can just be you, and they'll love you regardless. Also, I am convinced animals have some sort of sixth sense where they can tell if you're upset, and when you are they purposefully give you more attention than normal. It's very sweet.
4. They're a great way to meet other people.
Whether you're walking your dog, cat, or rabbit (people seriously do this), people will without a doubt stop you and demand to pet your pet. It's great. Firstly, you feel pretty chuffed that they think your pet is cute enough to stop for. Secondly, they enable human interaction, which is always a good thing. And thirdly, they're a great way to pick up the other half. But that's not what this article is about.
5. They actually make you healthier.
Various studies have shown that owning pets can actually improve your health. Dogs for example help reduce blood pressure, stress hormones, and can even help you sleep better. And of course there's that rush of happy cells when you're playing with your loving pet.
6. You've got to be fit to keep up with them.
I've got a little sausage dog. He's tiny. And yet, more often than not, my neighbours have seen me running at speed behind him as he drags me across a field to chase a squirrel. It's the best exercise I get, though unwanted at times.
7. They give you a purpose.
Animals are demanding - they need feeding, walking, washing, playing. All of this gives you a sense of routine, purpose and responsibility: all great things to combat depression. You can spend all day hidden under the covers, unable to face the world, but you can't forget to feed your pet. In my last bout of depression, the only time I would leave the house was to walk the dog, and though it was taxing and I didn't want to do it, it actually helped lift my spirits and gave me a routine that slowly but surely lifted me out of the deep black hole I was in.
So this Christmas, don't buy your friend a book they'll never read, don't buy your boyfriend a gift they won't understand, and don't buy your children another toy they'll discard - buy a fluffy animal and bring a little bit of joy to your lives. (but remember, pets aren't just for Christmas, they're for life).