They say a problem shared is a problem halved, and when there's something on your mind it's normally friends and family who are called on first to lend a sympathetic ear. However, it would seem that for over five million (59 per cent) people in the UK today, cats and dogs are their very first confidant.
Although their trusty companions don't understand a single word, new research conducted by MORE TH>N Pet Insurance has discovered that 87 per cent (9.1 million) of all cat and dog owners will talk at length to their pets when no one else is around - with 1.5 million chatting for over an hour every day. Perhaps more surprisingly, one in four admit they even spend more time talking to their pets than they do their partners.
It would seem that this one-on-one pet time is not filled with mindless chatter either. In fact, 85 per cent of those surveyed admitted they often have deep and meaningfuls with their mutts and moggies. Top topics of conversation include venting their feelings on relationships (35 per cent), work (33 per cent), relatives (32 per cent) and money matters (22 per cent).
What's more, over one third (36 per cent) even claim that they have only ever confessed their deepest secrets to their faithful four-legged friends.
But it's not just their owners' worries and secrets that today's pets are privy to. According to the research, a significant number of Brits also use their cats and dogs as sounding boards to rehearse for job interviews (20 per cent), to iron out the creases in speeches (14 per cent) and even to practice their wedding vows (12 per cent) ahead of the big day.
Delving into the reasons why so many Brits are choosing to get by with a little help from their furry friends, 59 per cent of respondents claimed it is because they don't always have the confidence to share their innermost thoughts and worries with other people - for fear they will be judged, embarrassed or cause arguments if they do so. By speaking aloud in front of a pet first they claim they can organise their thoughts and work out exactly what they want to say.
However, for 5.1 million (56 per cent) cat and dog owners, having a canine counsellor or a feline therapist is less about seeking solace or mentally preparing for a difficult conversation, and more a simple way of relaxing, clearing the mind and washing away the day's stresses.
According to leading relationship psychologist Corinne Sweet: "It's a well-known psychological fact that talking to our pets can relieve stress, anxiety, loneliness and a wide range of other uncomfortable feelings. Pets don't judge, talk back or complain. Instead they listen well, have open minds and faces and enable their owners to freely unburden themselves. We should not underestimate the roles pets play in our lives - no wonder they are man's, and woman's, best friends."
In light of the findings, and to give those without a pet the opportunity to experience the therapeutic benefits of confiding in one, MORE TH>N is today holding the first-ever "Dogtor's Surgery"- offering members of the public one-one-one therapy sessions with a four-legged Freud.
Janet Connor, Managing Director for MORE TH>N, commented: "While pets might not be able to speak or have the foggiest what's being said to them, they are looked upon as faithful companions whose loyalty and affection is unwavering. So it's no surprise that Brits will happily chatter away in the same way they would to a friend or family member. What's clear from these results, however, is that the majority of Brits don't see their pets as substitutes for people, but more as silent friends who they can turn to when they need to organise their thoughts or de-stress after a hard day.
"Responsible pet ownership isn't just about making sure an animal is fed well and exercised regularly - it's about creating and strengthening this bond. Talking to your pet might seem bizarre, but as the research shows, it can do wonders for your health, and your four-legged friend certainly won't mind the attention either."
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