As I melted the ice in my son’s rabbit’s water bowl this morning I began to wonder about the point of pets. Our household has two dogs, three cats, a guinea pig and a rabbit. The cats are mine, the dogs my husband’s and the rabbit and guinea pig I was pestered into getting for our children. Somehow the responsibilty for all of them has devolved to me. On a freezing cold morning it is not the best start to the day to go around the garden picking up dog poo, to clean out the rabbit hutch, then walk the dogs. But somebody has to do it. You will notice that I haven’t moaned about my lovely cats as they are very self-sufficient, just lay around looking cute and pretty and I just have to remember to feed them. Easy.

In 2006 there were an estimated 10.3 million cats and 10.5 million dogs in the United KIngdom. So there is certainly no doubt that we love our pets-but what do we want them for ? The obvious answer is companionship, loyalty,a friend. For the elderly or those that live alone, having a pet can give a reason to get up in the morning; some welcome the responsibility of a living creature which is dependent on them. Pets apparently can help their caregivers recover from a “physically or psychologically troubled past,” they can lower blood pressure, decrease stress and help a person live a longer, healthier life. Pet ownership was shown to significantly reduce triglycerides and thus heart disease risk in the elderly. Dying of a heart attack is less likely if the patient owns a dog.Of course it could be argued that you would only buy a dog if you were in good health and that it is a requirement of ownership rather than a result. Pets in nursing homes have been seen to be beneficial perking up residents and presumably relieving the monotony of interminable days.

Of course there are health risks too; many people are allergic to pets; conditions such as eczema or asthma can be aggravated or triggered by animal hairs. Every year there are cases of children being killed or injured by mauling by a dangerous dog. Diseases and even blindness can be caused by contact with dogs’ or cats’ faeces or urine. Rabies causes 55,000 deaths worldwide.Other drawbacks of pet ownership are the environmental consequences of the faeces, the methane and all those dog food cans. Pets can have a massive impact on family finances, general upkeep is one thing but the cost of a visit to the vet is astronomical. And I haven’t even started on the daily annoyances that are muddy footprints and dog hairs everywhere, usually on my best black trousers. Overall for me, pets are more trouble than they are worth but I am a busy mother of four young children; when I have an empty nest I will probably delight in clearing up dog vomit or emptying cat litter trays. Incidentally it is interesting that 47.2% of households with a cat had at least one person educated to degree level compared to 38.4% of homes with dogs. So it is not just a fallacy that cat owners are more intelligent-must remember that one.