COLUMN: Owning a pet can help with loneliness

Last month, the Royal College of Practitioners revealed the shocking statistic that 1.1 million people in the UK are chronically lonely, with 17 per cent of older people having human contact less than once a week.

The RSPCA is urging friends, relatives and neighbours of anyone they suspect of feeling lonely to consider rehoming an animal or taking up volunteering.

Adopting a pet can be a fantastic way to combat loneliness and animals can make wonderful companions for those who find themselves alone.

As well as pets helping people, pairing lonely people with a suitable animal could also help to ease pressure on the animal welfare charities and rescue centres across the country which are full to bursting with unwanted pets. And of course, it can provide the opportunity for a wonderful new life for a needy animal too.

As well as providing vital companionship to people who live alone, there are also a number of other benefits to owning a pet. Evidence suggests that when we stroke animals — or in the case of dogs, when we just look into their eyes — our bodies release oxytocin, a hormone that brings about bonding between individuals as well as helping us feel more optimistic and lowering blood pressure.

Owning a dog also makes people less vulnerable to the physical effects of stress and can encourage people to get out and about for exercise and can also help initiate interaction with other pet owners.

The RSPCA rehomes more than 47,000 animals each year and we take in all sorts of animals from dogs, cats and rabbits to birds, reptiles, fish, rodents and even equines and farm animals.

If you’d like to rehome an animal visit

Of course, owning a pet may not be suitable for everybody and it’s essential that the many responsibilities associated with taking on an animal are fully understood beforehand.

There are also other ways to help animals while also tackling loneliness. People could foster an animal in order to have a companion without taking on a long-term commitment or could even volunteer at a local charity shop or animal centre to meet other like-minded people and interact with animals awaiting new homes.

Whatever takes your fancy, interacting with animals can be a great way not only to overcome loneliness in people but also to help improve the lives of the many animals in need as well.