While this Thanksgiving holiday is quite different for so many, one thing we can be thankful for is the human-animal bond. Pets have been a bright spot during the pandemic, and research conducted since the onset of the pandemic suggests that the human-animal bond is helping support the health and wellness of people and pets in important ways.
Easing Stress and Anxiety
Living with pets during the coronavirus pandemic has helped ease stress and anxiety in pet owners. Research results show that 72 percent of pet owners say that spending time with their pet is helping reduce stress and improving wellbeing during the pandemic. Eighty-six percent of pet owners say their pets are helping them cope emotionally during social isolation. A survey of over 4,100 dog owners found that more than half of respondents said their dogs were helping reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. Dog owners aren’t the only ones to benefit. In fact, 49 percent of cat owners are also experiencing reduced anxiety with the help of their feline friends.
Providing a Welcome Distraction
In difficult times, it can be tough to stay in the present and engage in day-to-day life without worrying about the future. Research suggests that pets can provide structure, routine and a sense of purpose. Many pet owners report that their pets are helping them maintain a regular schedule, and cope with uncertainty. Specifically, more than half of the dog-owning respondents of a recent survey reported that their dogs provided a sense of purpose and meaning to their lives during self-isolation.
Maintaining Physical Health
Maintaining good physical health has become a challenge for many during the pandemic. Research has long demonstrated that dog walking can be a great form of exercise. Studies have shown that those who walk their dogs regularly are more likely to achieve recommended physical activity levels. During the pandemic, pet owners are keeping active with the help of their pets. Seventy-two percent of pet owners agree that their pets are helping them stay fit and active. Dog owners are reporting that their pets are providing a great excuse to get outdoors and exercise in the form of a simple walk or trip to the dog park. 42.5 percent of dog owners say they are now walking their dog more frequently than before.
Reducing Loneliness & Social Isolation
Loneliness has also been a significant public health concern throughout the pandemic. Research shows that pets provide companionship that can lessen the negative effects of loneliness and social isolation. Seven in 10 dog owners, and 6 in 10 cat owners say that their pets have helped reduce loneliness during time spent in isolation.
Improving Pet Health & Wellness
People are recognizing that the human-animal bond has been important to their health and wellness during the pandemic, and in turn, want to take better care of their pets. Seven in 10 pet owners say they would not have been able to get through COVID-19 without the companionship of their pet, and the same number feel they’ve gotten to know their pets a lot better during the pandemic. For example, two thirds of cat owners say they have noticed something new about their cat during quarantine. Pet owners say that this new attention to their pet has made them more likely to ensure their pet is in good health. According to veterinarians, quarantine presents an opportunity for pet owners to become more familiar with the specific health needs of their pets. Eighty-six percent of cat owners say they want to take care of their cat because their cat takes care of them, and 72 percent of pet owners say that they are taking better care of their pet than ever before. Three in four pet owners say that their pet deserves better quality care for being there during the pandemic, with the same number vowing to take their pet to the veterinarian for a proper check-up as soon as they’re able. As more pet owners are seeking veterinary care for their beloved pets, veterinary hospitals are adapting quickly to the shifting landscape. Looking to take your pet to the veterinarian soon? Here are some important tips to keep in mind before scheduling a visit.
Giving thanks to our pets is more than a holiday tradition this year; it is a recognition of the growing importance of the human-animal bond during an unprecedented pandemic.
For more resources and information on COVID-19 and pet ownership, check out these valuable resources from the pet care community.
Ratschen, E., Shoesmith, E., Shahab, L., Silva, K., Kale, D., Toner, P., … & Mills, D. S. (2020). Human-animal relationships and interactions during the Covid-19 lockdown phase in the UK: Investigating links with mental health and loneliness. PloS one, 15(9), e0239397.
Survey Research conducted by Phyllis Erdman, College of Education, Washington State University, and a team of collaborators from Colorado State University, the University of San Francisco and Palo Alto University
Brooks, H. L., Rushton, K., Lovell, K., Bee, P., Walker, L., Grant, L., & Rogers, A. (2018). The power of support from companion animals for people living with mental health problems: a systematic review and narrative synthesis of the evidence. BMC psychiatry, 18(1), 1-12.
Reeves, M. J., Rafferty, A. P., Miller, C. E., & Lyon-Callo, S. K. (2011). The impact of dog walking on leisure-time physical activity: results from a population-based survey of Michigan adults. Journal of Physical Activity and health, 8(3), 436-444.
Oliva, Jessica Lee, and Kim Louise Johnston. “Puppy love in the time of Corona: Dog ownership protects against loneliness for those living alone during the COVID-19 lockdown.” The International Journal of Social Psychiatry (2020).