How Dogs and Cats’ Physical Touch Have Helped Pet Parents Get Through Covid-19

by Lisa Fimberg on January 13, 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a boom of pets being bought, adopted, and brought into many homes during 2020.  It really isn’t surprising because of the joy, comfort and love that puppies and kittens bring to the lives of many pet parents.

There have been numerous studies about how pets provide the emotional support needed when pet owners are feeling down, stressed or as in Covid isolated.  With the lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, and social distancing guidelines in place, many have lost the most basic human interaction and that is touch.

While having virtual Zoom meetings and drive by visits have given many a social outlet, many people have missed out on the basic human interactions – a pat on the back, hug or even high-five. Without any real physical contact outside our immediately family, many people experience a sense of loss.

A new study shows how both cats and dogs have provided the much needed physical and emotional support – a cuddle or snuggle.  Even just their mere presence can help both emotionally and physically while pet owners work at home.

The benefits of a pet’s touch

The use of animal–therapy to help with mental and emotional health issues isn’t anything new, but is often overlooked.  There have been many studies that show how dogs and cats can help pet owners cope with anxiety, emotional disorders and even PTSD.

Furry family members can prevent many pet owners from becoming depressed or lonely as they keep us busy, engaged and loved. The act of petting a dog or cat releases an endorphin to alleviate the stress.  The importance of touch can sometimes be forgotten or disregarded.

A new study illustrates how pets have helped us during Covid

A recent study published by researchers at the University of South Australia points to the role that pets have played in 2020. The research team interviewed 32 people and found that simply touching their dogs and cats can assist in promoting health and well-being when human contact has been limited due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Over 90% of the respondents said that just touching their pets both comforted and relaxed them, and the pets seemed to need it as well. They also provided examples of dogs and cats touching their owners when they were distressed, sad or traumatized. Many people referenced their pets’ natural ability to be able to sense when their pet parents were not feeling well and wanted their pets to get physically close to them.  It was interesting to note that it wasn’t only dogs and cats that provided emotional support but sheep birds, horses and even reptiles that can reciprocate touch.

According to an interview with Dr. Janet Young, lead researcher, physical touch is a sense that has been taken for granted until Covid-19. “In a year when human contact has been so limited and people have been deprived of touch, the health impacts on our quality of life have been enormous,” Dr Young said. “To fill the void of loneliness and provide a buffer against stress, there has been a global upsurge in people adopting dogs and cats from animal shelters during lock downs. Breeders have also been inundated with demands for puppies quadrupling some waiting lists.”

It is estimated that more than half the world shares their lives with one or more pets. The health benefits of pet ownership have been widely reported, but few studies have been done regarding the specific benefits that pets bring to humans in terms of touch.

Dr. Young explained. “Touch is an understudied sense, but existing evidence indicates it is crucial for growth, development and health, as well as reducing the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. It is also thought that touch may be particularly important for older people as other senses decline.”

She further believes that having pets in aging residential care could have helped tremendously during Covid. With family or even friends being restricted from visiting, many had felt emotionally deprived.

Once this pandemic is over, it might be beneficial for some offices to allow dogs.  Based on all the research we have, most of the employees would feel less lonely, or even stressed out.   Social interactions would increase which could help with team building and productivity.

Source:

University of South Australia. “Pets, touch and COVID-19: Why our furry friends are lifesavers.” ScienceDaily, 1 December 2020.  https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/12/201201091831.htm

Lisa FimbergHow Dogs and Cats’ Physical Touch Have Helped Pet Parents Get Through Covid-19