Pets fulfill a need to confide in or talk to someone trusted, which is even more important during the COVID-19 quarantine. Loneliness and social isolation are major risk factors for depression and can increase the risk of heart disease, arthritis, Type II diabetes, and dementia. Pet ownership can reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness as evidenced by the following study.
A nationally representative survey of pet owners and non-pet owners commissioned by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) and Mars Petcare found that:
- 85% of respondents agree interaction with pets can help reduce loneliness
- 76% agree human-pet interactions can help address social isolation
- 72% believe human-animal interaction is good for their community
- 80% of pet owners say their pet makes them feel less lonely
Besides reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation, especially during a worldwide quarantine, cats and dogs provide a plethora of health benefits, such as the following perks:
- Reduce stress — After a tough day attempting to teach your kids common core math or trying to participate in a critical conference call with three fighting children in the background, hug your pet. You’ll feel all the stress of juggling working from home, masquerading as your children’s teacher, worrying about the health of your family members in high-risk areas, and rationing toilet paper melt away. Simply spending time near your pet reduces your stress level, and actively petting your pet further eliminates feelings of stress and anxiety. Plus, who doesn’t love seeing a cute furry head pop into your webcam during a Zoom call? People have cited the hilarity that ensues during a conference call when one barking dog sets off a chain reaction for each employee’s dog on the call. Nothing alleviates tension, worry, and stress better than our furry friends.
- Improve fitness — Although a quarantine situation seems like the perfect time to be a couch potato and catch up on all those Netflix series you want to watch, lounging around day and night is not good for your health and well-being. Your active puppy likely won’t let you laze much anyway. To release mood-boosting endorphins for you and your pet, implement a daily exercise routine, even if it’s based in your living room. A list of indoor activities designed to get you and your pet up and moving is outlined below.
- Decrease blood pressure — Studies have shown that pet owners have demonstrated a lower blood pressure reading in stressful situations when compared to non-pet owners. We are currently living in highly stressful times, worrying about when the Coronavirus pandemic will flatten out, and the health and well-being of our loved ones. Being under constant stress and worry can elevate your blood pressure, but playing with and caring for your pet will help take your mind off the state of the world.
- Increase serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine levels — There was a recent study in the journal Science that shows that oxytocin levels are boosted in both the dog and the person when a dog owner stares into the eyes of the dog. Petting your furry friend releases “feel good” chemicals, such as serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine, all of which offer a mood boost and promote social bonding, qualities that are even more important during times of pandemic-induced anxiety and isolation.
- Create a tight-knit bond — While we form close bonds with human family and friends, many people, particularly younger generations, state they feel even closer to their pets. Some people even claim to love their pet more than their partner, since pets never hold grudges and are always thrilled to see you. Unwavering devotion and unending affection truly make your pet your best friend, which is necessary now more than ever. To be able to count on the never-ending happiness of your pet to lift you up in these troubling times is truly a blessing of pet ownership.
For more information listing the many benefits of pet ownership and the human-animal bond, check out the Human Animal Bond Research Institute’s website. As more research becomes available on the numerous perks of caring for animals, more companies are becoming certified in the science of the human-animal bond, demonstrating they understand the importance of pet ownership to human mental and physical health.
Entertaining your Cats and Dogs when Quarantining
Since your pet provides so many health benefits for you, return the favor and take care of her mental and physical needs while locked down on quarantine with the following indoor games:
- Food puzzles - As pets suffer from obesity in ever-growing numbers, ditching the always-full food dish is in their best interest, for both mental and physical health. Make your pet work for her meals and occupy her attention by feeding her solely from food puzzles. Kongs stuffed with canned food, yogurt, peanut butter, or tuna and mixed with dry kibble make excellent options, especially when frozen overnight. Commercial food and treat puzzles are available for dogs and cats, or you can create your own.
- Obedience skills - While you may not think so, you can train your cat just like a dog. Discover the highest-value reward for your pet to encourage her to perform tricks for rewards, whether it’s a treat, toy, or petting.
- Agility course - Create an indoor agility course out of books, furniture, and other household items. Lure your pet through the course with a treat or toy, or have your pet follow your child through the course, hopefully tiring out both children.
- Toy swap - The same old toys get boring each day. Instead of allowing your pet access to all her toys every day, divide them up and swap them out on a rotation to ensure they remain fresh and exciting.
- Breed-specific games - Play to your pet’s strengths to provide proper mental stimulation. Some dog breeds are more apt to fetch and retrieve, while others would prefer to root around in a snuffle mat for treats. Cats are impressive predators and enjoy hunting and pouncing games that allow them to catch their prey, whether it’s a robotic mouse or feather wand.
- Climbing towers - For your feline friend, add vertical space to give your cat a chance to enjoy a lofty lookout perch near a window, so she can keep a close eye on the local bird population.
Depending on your location, you may still be able to hit local national and state parks, as long as you follow guidelines for social distancing. Your canine companion—and you—will enjoy the fresh air and change in scenery when hiking the trails of our beautiful public lands. If no public lands are available in your area, you can still stroll around the block or play in your backyard. When walking your pup around your neighborhood, choose times that are least likely to large numbers of other people out enjoying the day to make social distancing easier. As always, playing fetch, chase, or even creating a digging area for your dog to discover toys and treats are wonderful ideas for exercise. If your cat has been harness-trained, you can head outdoors with your feline friend to enjoy some sunshine as well.
As there have been no reports of pets becoming ill or serving as a source of COVID-19 infection for people or other animals, there is no reason to dump your pet at a shelter. Instead, use this quarantine period to spend more quality time with your four-legged friend to reap the mental health benefits of pet ownership.
If you have the resources available, consider fostering a homeless pet during this time, since many animal shelters and rescues are short-staffed and in desperate need of support. The more animals you have relying on you for care and attention, the more you will benefit from the unwavering devotion of pet ownership.