In Portugal alone, it is estimated that 38 percent of people own a dog, and 32 percent own a cat, and as of 2020, with an estimated population of well over 2 million dogs and 1.5 million cats, it appears Portugal is a pet-loving country. The benefits of owning a pet are well documented – with almost no effort at all, pets manage to bring much joy into our lives. They make us laugh, comfort us when we’re sick or upset, and are there for us no matter what.

Mental Health

One of the most basic connections for mental well-being is the psychological benefit of having a pet. In a recent review, having a pet was associated with better psychological welfare for those with mental health issues, and of 2,000 pet owners surveyed, 74 percent reported mental health improvements from pet ownership. Other research suggests that pets may even help stave off death, and a 2019 review from over 3 million people revealed that dog ownership was associated with a 24 percent reduced risk of dying over a 10-year period.

Simply petting a dog lowers the stress hormone cortisol, while interaction between people and their dogs actually increases levels of the feel-good hormone oxytocin. Having a pet is company if you are alone and to some, it may give security and a purpose to their lives.

They can teach children responsibility - every parent has been asked: ‘Can I have a kitten/puppy/hamster/pony?’ at some point. It’s no secret that kids love animals, and if they’re old enough, having a pet can teach them a lot of important skills - not only will they learn the practical skills required to own a pet, but they’ll also develop nurturing and empathy skills, which are vital in later life.

And they can help you make friends – dogs in particular are perfect icebreakers! The moment you see someone with a dog, chances are you’re going to go up and strike up a conversation with them.

Pets do so much for us!

But what can we do for them? Well, obviously food and water – a high-quality balanced diet and access to clean fresh water daily are essentials. Somewhere to sleep – a bed for your pet is a source of comfort to them. Some dogs and cats sleep with their owners but isn’t recommended for dogs who require stricter boundaries.

If your pet does not sleep with you, create a cozy sleeping place, preferably with the pack (you or other humans/dogs in the house), and it is recommended to have beds in rooms where they spend a lot of time.

Exercise is another area – understand your pet’s needs, whether it’s a dog or a hamster, and try to develop an exercise routine that matches them - regular walks for a dog, playtime for cats, wheels or exercise balls for small rodents – all will help bond you and your pet too.

Their well-being is important too – so enlist the help of a vet when they need vaccinations or have any health issues.

Not everyone understands the bond between human and beast or even realises how much pets do for their owners, but it obviously isn’t the same if you have a lizard or snake! But some snake owners feel as though their snake recognises them and is more eager to be held by them than by others. However, snakes don’t have the intellectual capacity to feel emotions such as affection. But this doesn’t mean that snakes don’t enjoy spending time with humans - they just aren’t capable of forming a bond with you in the way a furry friend might.

Be a responsible owner

We can return a pet’s love and trust by being responsible owners and ensuring they are safe, happy, and healthy. Your pet will show their love by being excited to see you, greeting you, vocalising in ways that show you they’re excited to see you, and by spending time with you and seeking you out for company.

Looking after a pet is a big responsibility, but when you consider all the benefits above, they make all that hard work worthwhile. Whatever pet you choose, they’ll make a great companion!


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan