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Pets offer support

April 8, 2020

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more people are practicing social distancing and self-quarantine — two measures epidemiologists agree are critical to slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus. However, social isolation can take a toll on mental and even physical health. Scientific research has shown that loneliness and social isolation can induce negative health effects that rival those of obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

More now than ever is the time to be thankful you share life with a pet! Amid the coronavirus outbreak, animal friends are providing daily emotional support to millions of people around the globe and having a positive impact on human health and well being.

In May 2019, a group of public health, research, gerontology, and veterinary leaders gathered at a summit in Washington, D.C. to discuss the role companion animals can play in curbing societal loneliness. Results released by the consortium included: 85% of respondents agree interaction with pets can help reduce loneliness, 76 percent agree human-pet interactions can help address social isolation, and 72 percent believe human-animal interaction is good for their community.

Companion animals can make a real difference in human mental health, particularly during stressful situations like the current pandemic.

Psychologist Evan MacLean at the University of Arizona sites numerous studies that suggest pets can have a stress buffering effect on people going through challenging times. This effect is not only in terms of people’s perceived sense of well-being, but also in terms of physiological measures like heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol — a hormone involved in stress responses. Part of the effect is probably very similar to the support we get from our human friends and family, who can help us to weather the storm. Likely, pets provide that same kind of social support, as figures that will be beside us through thick and thin.

Quarantine, and even social distancing, is meant to impose an isolation that most of us, as a highly social species, work hard throughout our lives to avoid. Even the most introverted of us need company.

Pets’ simple presence, and their willingness to be touched, is deeply satisfying during a time like the present. Reading on the couch is greatly improved by a dog’s head resting on our leg; a warm nuzzle directed at us is instantly calming; the rhythm of a purring feline motor on our lap is soothing.

Do not sit around worrying but rather, refocus your mental energy on playing pounce with your kitty or taking a scenic walk with your pup. Take breaks to just sit with your animal friend for some gentle petting. You will both be feeling relaxed in no time.

Are you working remotely from home? Even though you may not be in the office, hopefully you are enjoying your new “coworkers” who keep you company throughout the day — your pets!

Please keep in mind that veterinary care is considered “essential” at a time like this. The healthcare of pets translates to the human-animal bond which becomes even more important during crises.

We all will come out of the COVID-19 pandemic with a fuller appreciation of the privilege that it is to keep the company of animals.

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