Dr Pete Wedderburn qualified as a vet from Edinburgh thirty years ago in 1985. He has worked in his own four-veterinarian companion animal practice in County Wicklow, Ireland, since 1991, and he has his own menagerie of dogs, cats, ducks, hens and others including a pet rabbit in his kitchen.
Pete is well known as a media veterinarian in Ireland and the UK, with a weekly breakfast television slot on national television for the past fourteen years. He is a prolific writer on animal topics, with weekly columns in the Ireland’s Herald newspaper and the UK’s Daily Telegraph. Pete is known as “Pete the Vet” on his busy Facebook and Twitter pages, regularly posting information on topical subjects and real-life cases from his clinic. He also writes a regular blog at www.petethevet.com.
Research shows that children who live in households with pets tend to be more self-confident and socially adept than those without animals.
Pets are experts in body-language, which is often universal across species barriers. Perhaps animals are able to teach children this by being in close contact with them as they are growing up?
Recent research has also suggested that the presence of animals in the home can act as a protective against the later development of asthma in the child – as long as the mother of the child does not have asthma, in which case animals can make things worse.
Children with psychological difficulties may gain special benefits from pets. Professional pet therapy started nearly fifty years ago when a psychiatrist noted that severely withdrawn children became more responsive when he was accompanied by his own dog in counselling sessions, and this is now a well established routine.
Children learning to read can also benefit by reading allowed to pets: they seem to be able to do this without feeling the same self-consciousness that they may have with fellow humans listening.
A case in point: Emma has owned a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel since she was a baby: she is now a confident, healthy, ten year old child, and her friendship with her dog is a model of good companionship.
Pets are good for adults too!
Animals bring both physical and psychological benefits to all of us. Most obviously, dogs encourage people to exercise. If you own a dog, a regular walk – half an hour twice daily – is a necessary part of your routine together. There is something different about walking with a dog – many folk would not take a walk around a local park, on the beach or along the street if they did not have a dog beside them.
Dogs also act as supreme social catalysts, making it easier for us to connect with other people. It’s far easier to talk to someone who has a dog beside them: the animal makes them seem more approachable, and you can talk about the dog as a neutral subject (“He’s a lovely looking creature. What breed is he?”)
Taking it to another level, pets bring benefits to the treatment of psychiatric illness, including depression. The presence of an appropriate animal can help to build self-esteem and increase mental alertness, and they also lift the spirits of people with Alzheimer’s disease.
In several prison projects, inmates who have been given birds and small animals to take care of have become less violent, more sociable and more responsible.
Pet ownership has also been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. Studies have revealed that petting a dog or a cat, or sometimes just being in the same room as a friendly animal, can reduce people’s blood pressure and heart rate. And perhaps linking to this, after major heart surgery, one study showed that patients who had pets with animals lived for longer than those who did not keep pets.
A case in point: The Connolly family have owned a succession of Boxers, since before their children were born. The children are now in their twenties, and they can’t imagine the Connolly home without a resident Boxer or two. Every family photo includes the dogs, and they’re seen as an integral, key part of the Connolly family.
Pets are good for older people!
Any vet can tell you stories about older people who have their lives enriched by the company of their pets. Studies have shown that pets can help older people to be more self-reliant. One study measured how many hours of ‘paid care worker time’ was needed for elderly people living alone. At the start, an average of 40 hours a week of human help was required per patient. Six months after each patient had been given a pet, the amount of carer time had reduced to about 10 hours per week.
For older people who are unable to live on their own, there are other benefits. When pets are allowed to visit nursing homes, there’s a strong positive effect, with elderly residents smiling and talking more, and experiencing more symptoms of well-being.
A case in point: Chance is a Golden Cocker Spaniel who was the sole pet of Betty until she was ninety, when she was no longer able to live in her own home due to a disability. When Betty moved into a care home, she was allowed to bring Chance with her. Her long term companion has now become the friend of many other older people in their new home together.
Whatever your stage of life, pets can bring brightness, cheerfulness and friendship into your immediate environment. If you’ve never thought about having a pet, why not think about one now? It’s never too late!