The benefits of a pet during a pandemic

The human and animal bond is a special relationship. Alongside bringing joy and unconditional love, having a pet to care for can bring a myriad of physical and mental benefits for an individual. During trying times, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, this can be more important than ever.

In stressful times, the benefit of a non-human companion is paramount. Pets are proven to decrease stress and improve our well-being and while many people are facing anxieties over their jobs, health, and social isolation, they’re turning to their pets more than ever, including myself. My cat has certainly provided me with company and comfort during the past few months. Indeed, a study by Washington State University found that students spending just 10 minutes interacting with cats and dogs produced a significant reduction in students' cortisol, a major stress hormone*.

Many of us have been forced to work from home which can often be an isolating experience, especially for those who live alone. This may continue indefinitely while the pandemic remains, and eventually become a more normal way of life. A companion at home can make this experience less lonely. They can provide some much-needed company and a welcome distraction. Plus, from personal experience, when you’re cat interrupts your Zoom call, it’s always a talking point!

Furthermore, pets are funny. Fact. And we all need a laugh during these challenging times. Whether your cat is chasing their tail, the dog is barking at their reflection, or they’re simply sleeping in a weird position, we can always rely on our funny friends for some much-needed comic relief.

Even though we’re socially isolating, our pets can still increase our social interaction. Walking a dog often leads to conversations with other dog walkers (two metres apart, obviously). Simply taking photos of our animal companions and sharing them with friends, or on social media, increases our social interaction with others.

Importantly, regular dog walking and playing with pets can improve our fitness. While gyms are closed and motivation might be waning, our pets give us a reason to get moving. This can be especially important for older people. Pets have made a world of difference to my own grandparents. My Nan gets up at 6 am every morning to take her staffie Ruby for a walk before the crowds appear. It gives her a sense of purpose, fresh air, and exercise each day. My Grandad, on the other side of my family, also benefitted in the past by adopting a springer spaniel called Ben when he retired to keep him busy and active. They spent ten happy years together visiting the local fields and Ben’s photo still takes centre place on the mantelpiece.

Of course, before rushing out to adopt a furry friend, we need to be sure that we can offer a pet the time and love it deserves. Some rescue centres are now opening up again for applications - once you’re sure you have the time and lifestyle for a pet, it might just be the best decision you make - now and for the future.

References:

* Patricia Pendry, Jaymie L. Vandagriff. Animal Visitation Program (AVP) Reduces Cortisol Levels of University Students: A Randomized Controlled TrialAERA Open, 2019; 5 (2): 233285841985259 DOI: 10.1177/2332858419852592

Guest blog by Lauren Matthews

- June 10, 2020