From dogs and cats to tropical fish and snakes, the UK’s fascination with pets has grown over the past four years. For some people it’s about companionship, for others pet ownership helps to regulate their health and wellbeing.

a white cat sits looking over the shoulder of a man

Today more than half of UK households own a pet. I welcomed my pet on Valentine’s Day 2019. Well, Missy (pictured here with me) was my partner’s pet initially. But we bonded through lockdown – when my partner worked as a key worker within the NHS – and she has since become ‘my’ cat.

We’ve continued to bond over the years – whether it’s catching the frogs she’s brought us at 3am, her ‘helping’ me write articles by padding back and forth across the keyboard, or the way she ‘tickles’ our feet with her claws when hungry. As she’s matured, Missy has become more of a lap cat. I now look forward to her joining me on the couch – it’s comforting, like a hug or a hello from an old friend.

Celebrating pet ownership

I’m not alone in loving my pet. On 11 April each year the UK honours the bond between animal and owner with National Pet Day.

While dogs and cats are by far the most popular pet, other popular animals include indoor birds, hamsters, guinea pigs, tortoises and snakes.

According to the PDSA’s (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals) research, there were 11 million dogs, 11 million cats and 1.1 million rabbits living as pets in the UK last year.

Health benefits

It’s safe to say I’m a ‘cat person’. But keeping a pet of any sort, has huge health and wellbeing benefits. Regularly walking your dog, caring for your cat, or just enjoying your pet’s companionship can help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression and ease loneliness. Even watching fish swim can help you relax.

In its report, the PDSA found 67% of the people questioned thought owning a pet made them physically healthier.

They are not alone, and there’re a number of different studies which show that:

  • pets can help lower their owner’s blood pressure
  • heart attack patients with pets survive longer than those without, particularly people who live alone
  • people stay more physically fit, especially dog owners who are encouraged to take more physical activities, such as walking.

Wellbeing benefits

There are also several wellbeing benefits to pet ownership. Often pets can help people with depression by providing motivation, comfort and allowing them to maintain healthy routines. They also provide companionship. Overview – Depression in adults – NHS (

The PDSA’s research found that 87% of pet owners agree their pet makes them mentally healthier. The research also found that 85% of pet owners reported being less lonely, and 94% said their pet made them happier. Simply playing with your pet can increase your levels of serotonin and dopamine, which can help you to relax and stay calm.

In the last few years there’s been an increase in emotional support animals. These animals support people with ongoing mental health treatment and hidden disabilities. The animals don’t require specific training, and their role is to provide comfort to people with emotional or psychological disabilities.


A woman smiles as she holds her RoboPet cat

Last year, East Sussex County Council launched a pilot RoboPet project giving people with early-stage dementia a mechanical pet that looks just like a cat or dog.

As the one-year pilot comes to an end, carers have said they saw immediate health and wellbeing benefits in the people they care for. Benefits include aiding independence and providing companionship.

Staying safe

While it can be great fun and comfort having a pet, it’s important to help your child develop their understanding of animal behaviour so that your pets and your children can live safely together.

Read more about keeping kids and pets safe and happy.