By Kim Gilliam
The past few months have been a stressful time for all of us as we face overwhelming uncertainty and loss caused by the novel coronavirus. Many have turned to their pets to ease anxiety.
It makes sense. Along with the enjoyment they provide, pets offer a variety of health benefits, including decreased blood pressure, lower cholesterol and more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pets also increase exercise, outdoor activity and opportunities for social connection.
When facing emotional loss and physical or emotional pain, pets can help provide the motivation we need to keep going. During the pandemic, they may be even more important. While interactions with other people are limited right now, our pets can be with us with no restrictions. Their presence is a comfort in many ways. Physically, petting a furry animal releases calming and relaxing endorphins. Psychologically, pets can divert sad and uncomfortable thoughts, providing a much-needed, comforting distraction.
This helps explain why Americans have been adding pets to their households in record numbers this year. While 54% of American households started the year with pets, that number is on the rise, according to research published in the recent Packaged Facts market research report. They project 4% growth in the pet ownership households base in 2020, bringing the total number of pet-owning households in the U.S. to nearly 71 million.
There has been a similar growth in embracing lifelike robotic pets in elder care and long-term nursing homes. These companion animals have been linked to reductions in depression, agitation, loneliness, nursing staff stress and medication use. These robotic pets are designed to bring comfort, companionship and fun to elder loved ones. New York became the first state to test the robotic pets with isolated older adults, and results showed that using pets to lower social isolation was highly successful, with 70% of pilot participants reporting a decrease in isolation after one year, per a news release from Ageless Innovation.
Here are five ways your pets can help you during the pandemic.
Talk to them
Pets are great listeners. They often pick up on your emotions and provide non-judgemental emotional support. Sometimes, just saying things aloud can help you work through your troubles.
Pets are funny, often without any effort at all, and laughter is an excellent way to relieve stress.
Take a walk
Pets are often happy to accompany you on a walk, an excellent way to get much-needed exercise, breathe some fresh air and greet neighbors from afar.
While we may not be able to touch other humans outside our homes right now, our pets are safe to cuddle.
Share the sweetness
While social media feeds are filled with sobering news, a photo or video of your pet can create a connection with others and bring a smile to their faces.
If you’ve been struggling to look at the positives in this stressful time, you’re not alone. However, it’s important to remember that if you’re a pet owner, having a pet is a privilege and a pleasure. Be sure to find ways to enjoy your extra time with them.
The writer co-owns Frolick Dogs, an indoor dog gym in Alexandria, with her husband, Kevin Gilliam.