How the coronavirus pet adoption boom is reducing stress

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Research consistently shows the benefits of pet ownership during stressful times. (Shutterstock) L.F. Carver, Queen’s University, Ontario

As has been discussed in so many articles, sharing our lives with pets is good for our health. Not only do they make us healthier in normal times, in stressful times the benefit of a pandemic puppy (or cat), or other non-human companion, goes even further.


Read more: When pets are family, the benefits extend into society


During a pandemic, people can be stressed and fearful for their lives and the lives of those they love. Research has shown that where there is a bond between human and animal, the presence of a non-human companion — especially a dog — decreases psychological arousal and stress, and creates physiological changes that make us feel better.

Pandemic pets
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic there was pet abandonment in large numbers in Wuhan, China. Fearful that the same would happen locally, many animal rescue organisations set out to empty their shelters. Worldwide there was an unprecedented upsurge in adoptions and fostering.

Although many people did this for the animals, they, perhaps unwittingly, set themselves up for better mental health during the pandemic. Aside from the stress-mitigating impacts of pets mentioned above, having a pet may be a powerful influencer in maintaining health-protective behaviours, such as eating well or going out for a walk.

Dogs and cats can increase physical rehabilitation goals through behaviour such as “bending, reaching, ambulating and using both arms in a functional manner to provide food, water, and grooming”. These basic activities involved in animal care actually provide exercise, which is very important for people who spend the day in a stationary position.

With stay-at-home orders required in many places, having a pet at home can help reduce feelings of anxiety and frustration. (Shutterstock)

Human-animal relationships
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, I had just started a research study asking people about their relationships with their non-human companions. The preliminary results of this online survey include people between their late 30s and early 90s. They live in Canada, the United States, England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland and come from all walks of life. One-third have completed high school or less, 30 per cent completed college and/or an apprenticeship and the rest completed some kind of university degree. At the time of the survey, almost all of them were spending their time at home, some were alone, others with family and for others pets were their only companions.

When asked, in an open-ended question, what it has been like having animal companions with them during the pandemic, their answers included words like “comforting,” “good/great,” “helpful”. Several people said that they work full-time, so they were enjoying the time with their animal and getting to see what their pet does all day. Several people indicated that they would be lost without their pet.

One participant said, “I don’t know what I would do without the company of my dog, she has kept me going.” Another said, “It is the only thing that is keeping me sane.” And others said the presence of a pet was salvation (a life saver) and brought joy. There were also those who said they talk with their pet and that it helped stave off loneliness.

Artificial pets?
Another question I ask in my research is whether robot pets can be used to replace live animals, so it was interesting to see that robot pets were being provided to older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Read more: Robopets: Using technology to monitor older adults raises privacy concerns


In my survey during the COVID-19 pandemic, respondents were asked whether, given the choice, they would choose a robot pet or a live animal. Out of 102 people who answered this question, not one of them said they would choose a robot pet — even those who currently did not have a pet did not want a robot pet. The vast majority said they would choose a live pet, and a few said that they would rather have no pet at all.

When asked why, they said things like, “It is not about the companionship alone. It is about the emotional connection. To get that from a robotic creation is not love. We need the love that comes with these pets.” It was very clear that the robots were “not the same as a living breathing animal”. That a robot could not take the place of a pet because pets are “unique and make me smile and love them”.

A Washington Post video comparing Sony’s robot dog Aibo to a live puppy.

The results of this survey are similar to those found during non-pandemic research: pets stave off loneliness, and living with pets helps people to be more active, even if it is only the movement associated with basic tasks, such as cleaning the litter box or filling food bowls. Most importantly, we are comforted by these non-human companions. The presence of a dog or a cat in the home may be the only thing between an isolated person and despair.

Given how important dogs, cats and other non-human companions are to our wellbeing, it is important to remember them when developing programs to support isolated people. When there is not enough money to go around, “it is not unheard of for people to feed their dog before they feed or acquire medications for themselves”.

As the economic reality of sustained unemployment unfolds, it is important for public services to consider not only food security for humans, but also for their non-human companions in order to prevent the possibility of a tsunami of pet abandonment due to an inability to provide care.The Conversation

L.F. Carver, Assistant Professor & Privacy and Ethics Officer at the Centre for Advanced Computing, Queen’s University, Ontario

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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9 Comments

Total Comments: 9
  1. 0
    0

    Might be reducing stress with owners, but not with the dog when the owner returns to work. Already my neighbours and I are being plagued by a young large dog that howls from the minute it’s owner leaves for work around 7.00am in the morning. Continues all through the day. We have calmly and quietly spoken to the owner – even offering to take it for a walk, but he is not interested. Only wants one person (him) to handle his dog.
    One lady has just recently had a baby and both are exhausted due to this continual noise. Regrettably we have had to complain to the council, so now we will be in the bad books with the neighbour.

    • 0
      0

      The dog is young and is experiencing “Seperation Anxiety”. May I suggest the you approach the neighbour and suggest that the dog be given a bone to chew whenever the owner leaves. The dog learns to relate the departure of the owner with a treat rather than seperation and gives the dog something to occupy itself at the time of seperation. We have done this with all our dogs (all 13 because we rescue abandoned Siberian Huskies) and never had a problem. Good luck!

    • 0
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      Huskie – I KNEW someone would come back with their expert opinions. I didn’t realise I had to give the whole situation – so sorry to upset you. So I will have to explain further.
      (1) I DO dog training – qualified (that is why I approached him)
      (2) I DID make some suggestions to owner about bone, a sand pit, a kong – not interested
      (3) I walk my dog twice a day, offered to walk his – not interested
      So now because of irresponsible dog owner, the neighbours have to endure this continual disruption, and we now have a neighbour we don’t get on with.

    • 0
      0

      No need to shout (KNEW). Did not upset me. I also did dog training in my younger days as a qualified trainer (qualified for Man Work). No bad dogs only bad owners. As I said – good luck!

    • 0
      0

      Keep persevering with taking the dog for a walk and having it settle with you at your place for the day. I had this at two separate houses when the owners put their dogs out at night. They didn’t hear their dog barking all night meanwhile I was quietly going insane from lack of sleep!

  2. 0
    0

    My rescue cat (from 3 years ago) is great company.

  3. 0
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    Our cat has been a big help. Her antics make us laugh. She picks up a toy and races around the house with it. She is really funny and playful. She arrived in February at three months of age so still in the kitten stage.

  4. 0
    0

    I think the dogs in China may have been abandoned because pretty well all of China’s population live in high rise flats and it would have been v hard to keep them indoors for the long period of the shutdown. All the Chinese people I have met love their pets dearly. Ok ok I know someone is going to start on about the Chinese eating dog. That’s fairly uncommon, usually eaten as a winter dish mainly by rich Chinese. And they don’t eat their own dogs.
    My worry is for all the newly adopted dogs and what will happen when people go back to work and feel too tired to exercise them st the end of the day.

    • 0
      0

      That is my concern too. A three month toy and then abandoned as lawn furniture. The puppy scams have been out of control as well as dogs missing from people’s back yard.


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