Pets can be our best friends - but why?

Pets can be our best friends - but why?

If you were pet hunting in 2020, you would have been hard pressed to find a puppy, kitten or even a rescue pet.

Lockdowns across the country created a strong desire for pet ownership, with "pandemic puppies" fetching prices as high as $10,000.

We also saw countless photos and videos of people at home with their pets - working with them sprawled out on keyboards or lying under desks.

The pandemic has certainly highlighted the importance of pets, and the comfort we receive from them.

But why do we love our pets so much?

Pets are considered part of the family - a companion. But they have also been shown to benefit our wellbeing in tangible ways.

Research suggests that dogs increase our activity levels, ability to socialise and our sense of safety.

Stroking a cat can lower blood pressure and elicit positive emotions.

However, there are costs of pet-ownership, too. Messes to clean up, litter trays to empty, dogs to exercise, behavioural problems and financial costs of vets and food. Sometimes, these costs can even lead to a need to re-home our pets.

Due to this tricky balance, La Trobe University's anthrozoology research group is measuring the benefits and costs of cat and dog-owner relationships to better understand why some pet-owner relationships succeed and others don't.

This is enabling more nuanced research into just how our faithful companions affect our lives.

But we'd like to know even more about this critical contributor to mental health and wellbeing.

Was it increased time at home that led to a flurry of pet buying in 2020? Or was it that we thought their company would provide comfort, and stave off the loneliness of social isolation?

While research suggests pets are a strong part of our social support network, and that they can be good for us, it is unclear how they benefit us, or even who might benefit the most.

Are you a cat or dog owner? Whether you're new to pet ownership, or have had one for years, we want to know about your relationship with your pet and how this impacts your wellbeing.

To take part in our survey visit https://ltu-pet-survey.questionpro.com or email shardie@students.latrobe.edu.au

At a time when we are valuing our mental health and wellbeing more than ever, let's better understand the critical role that pets can play in our lives.

Salonika Hardie is a psychology honours student at La Trobe University.

This story Pets can be our best friends - but why? first appeared on The Canberra Times.