Get 1 month free on pet insurance**

Find out more

Tags: Community & relationships Flourish Health Real Wellbeing factors

“It gives you a reason to get out of bed in the morning because she’s there and needs to be fed. It gives you a purpose in life.”—Norma Tyson, Australian Unity Home Care Service customer.

Key points

  • Studies show that interacting with pets lowers your levels of stress and can make you feel naturally happier
  • Physical health can also be positively influenced by having a pet
  • Pets also have the ability to unite and connect people from different backgrounds, ages and social circles

Almost a third of Australians would prefer to spend time with their pets than other people, according to a national listener survey by the ABC.

While spending time with your furry pals certainly shouldn’t replace regular social interaction, having a pet in the house can provide great comfort, reduce anxiety and help with feelings of loneliness and even change the chemistry of our brains.

Studies have found that interacting with pets lowers the levels of the stress hormone cortisol and can raise ‘happy’ hormone oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin. Most astoundingly, bonding with pets has been found to have the same effect on our brains (i.e. a release of oxytocin that has a calming effect) as when a mother holds her child.

Elderly man feeding dog at dinner table

Professor Kerryn Phelps—in her book How to Keep Your Brain Young—describes the release of serotonin when patting a pet as a type of natural antidepressant, giving you a sense of calm and promoting happy feelings.

Australian Unity Home Care Service customer Norma Tyson, who lives in Berkeley, New South Wales, knows all too well the social and emotional benefits that caring for a pet can provide. “Last year I had cancer and while I was really sick Muffin was with me always,” Norma says.

Muffin, a two-year-old domestic cat, came to live with Norma when she was six months old.

“When I came to live in these units, after my husband died, I still had our dog and she lived until she was 17,” Norma says. “After she died, I said, ‘that’s it, I’m not having any more pets’, but the minute I saw Muffin she changed my mind. She is my constant companion and my life.”

Living on her own, Norma has found the companionship and comfort of a pet invaluable. “It gives you a reason to get out of bed in the morning because she’s there and needs to be fed. It gives you a purpose in life. The comfort and affection and love – there’s nothing like having an animal. They’re just so beautiful.”

Dog licking elderly person's face

Australian Unity Home Care Service customer, Shirley Bray has an energetic 14-year-old Shih Tzu x Maltese, Bambi, to keep her and her husband Doug busy. “She’s showing no signs of slowing down. I wish I had her energy,” Shirley says.

“She makes everybody welcome and loves to play with everyone who comes to the house. There’s one lady, Anna, who comes to do our cleaning and showers, and Bambi knows when she’s coming long before we do. She’s very friendly—sometimes I think she’s too friendly.”

Research into the physical benefits of owning a pet has proven that regular exercise associated with walking, getting outside and throwing a ball for an animal can increase cardiovascular health in humans and result in fewer visits to the doctor.

Apart from the physical benefits, the emotional and social support pets provide is significant. It’s the ability to unite and connect people from different backgrounds, ages and social circles that is one of the great benefits of owning pets—dog parks can be great spaces to meet and interact with new people. This is especially the case during times of
social isolation such as the COVID-19 pandemic in which pet adoption numbers soared.

The Lost Dogs home in Melbourne pet adoption rate is up 22% in the last financial year—with almost 6,500 cats and over 1,500 dogs adopted in 2022/23.

Australian Unity customer Patricia Hannan and her cat Chum sit comfortably together on the bed.

“I know that having pets isn’t for everyone, but for me it’s been a joy,” Australian Unity Home Care Service customer Patricia Hannan, based in Mt Ousley, NSW, says. “Now especially, with so many rules forbidding contact with others, even family, it’s been lovely just to be able to stroke a cat.”

Patricia has had the companionship of two loving cats over the past 16 years—Chum (who was recently euthanised) and his sister Smudge. “I remember my late husband Bill deciding to take both kittens instead of separating them.”

Visitors to Patricia’s home share her affection for the cats, including her former Australian Unity Home Care Worker Sam Johnson, who painted a picture of Pat and Chum sitting together.

“They’ve been a comfort and they’ve been wonderful companions in their own way. I’m grateful for every moment that we’ve had, and I still smile when I think of Bill saying, ‘we’ll take them both’.” 

Disclaimer: Information provided in this article is of a general nature. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest. Interviewee names and titles were accurate at the time of writing. policies entered into for the first time prior to 7 November 2023 and subsequent renewals of those policies are issued by The Hollard Insurance Company Pty Ltd ABN 78 090 584 473, AFSL 241436, arranged and administered by PetSure (Australia) Pty Ltd ABN 95 075 949 923, AFSL 420183 (PetSure) and promoted and distributed by PetSure’s Authorised Representative (AR) Pet Insurance Pty Ltd ABN 38 607 160 930, AR 1234944 (PIPL) and Australian Unity Bank Limited ABN 30 087 652 079, AFSL 237994 (AUBL). policies entered into for the first time on or after 7 November 2023 and subsequent renewals of those policies are issued by PetSure and promoted and distributed by PetSure’s AR, PIPL and AUBL. Any advice provided is general only and does not take into account your individual objectives, financial situation or needs. Please consider the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) to ensure this product meets your needs before purchasing, or choosing to continue with the product. PDS and Target Market Determination available at It’s important that you read Australian Unity’s FSG before acting on any advice or taking out insurance through us. You can download the Australian Unity Bank FSG here.

**1 month free - Offer commences on 12:01am AET on 30 January 2024 and ends on 11:59pm AET on 12 March 2024 (Offer Period). Offer provides new customers with one month free in their first policy year only when they purchase a Pet Insurance Policy through Australian Unity Bank Limited (Australian Unity) during the Offer Period (Offer). If you choose to pay by monthly or fortnightly instalments, you will not be charged an instalment for the first month of your policy, from the selected policy commencement date. The first premium will be charged on the first premium instalment of the second month of your policy. For annual payments, the month free will be deducted from your first policy year premium at the time of purchase. Offer applies to new Pet Insurance policies purchased through Australian Unity, during the Offer Period, online or by phone using promo code AU1MF. Eligible customers can receive the Offer in addition to the existing Australian Unity customer discount of 5% off premiums, on their first year’s premium only. Offer will cease if you change your level of cover. Not available with any other offer except for the existing Australian Unity customer discount of 5% off premiums, if applicable, and the 10% multi-pet discount for additional pets. Offer subject to the terms and conditions of the Pet Insurance policy. Eligibility criteria applies Pet Insurance and is subject to the Pet Insurance terms and conditions (refer to the Product Disclosure Statement). Australian Unity reserves the right to withdraw, vary or extend this Offer at any time, without notice.