The beneficial role of pets in health during COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect our personal, social, and work-life globally. Not only our physical health but mental health as well is at high risk (Bao, Sun, Meng, Shi, & Lu, 2020) (Rajkumar, 2020). The isolation, loss of a job, closures of educational institutions have led to immense stress levels. All fields are trying their best to contribute to the eradication of the epidemic. While scientists and experts are busy working on inventing vaccines, other health professionals are generating awareness of the disease and helping people deal with the crisis. Looking at the critical situation, one possible alternative to maintain the health of society to a certain extent can be achieved through the therapeutic benefits of having pets.
It is well known that animals assist in reducing stress (Hill, Winefield, & Bennett), uplifting mood (Beetz, Uvnäs-Moberg, Julius, & Kotrschal, 2012), fulfilling social-emotional needs (Serpell, 2011), and consequently improving overall mental health (Brooks, et al., 2018). Because of social-distancing where we lack human contact, pets can be a huge support system. The mere presence of an animal around, be it a dog or cat or rabbit, fosters positive emotions. The small act like stroking the fur of an animal stimulates the release of hormones such as serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin that are known to play a significant role in elevating moods (Olmert, 2009). The soothing and calming touch of animals can boost our psychological well-being by providing a benign outlet for our basic need of touch during the pandemic. Throughout the lockdown, when we are unable to seek comfort from our peers, pets can provide some ease. Besides, having pets at home would be extremely helpful to the children and elderly who may lack digital skills to connect to their family or friends.
While playing, walking, running, and caring for pets people get the opportunity to indulge in some form of physical activity. It doesn’t require people to move out of their safe home environment to be physically active. Spending time taking care of the pets will also lead to a reduction in screen time which is seen increasing during the lockdown as a prominent form of leisure activity. Pets are not only known to reduce day-to-day fatigue and help achieve better sleep, but it is also a potential source of joy and happiness. One recent research showed that pets have helped significantly in raising the quality of life in those who were confined to their homes because of pandemic (Bowen, Garcı́a, Darder, Argüelles, & Fatjó, 2020).
It has been seen recently that the number of people adopting pets in this global epidemic is increasing. Some are even opting for robotic pets which seems to protect them against the worries of spreading zoonotic diseases. On the other hand, there are several other cases reported where it was found that people are increasingly turning their back against pets due to fear of contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus from them. It is essential to note that presently no evidence states that animals can spread the disease. Unless one has allergies or fear of pets, it is safe to have a pet around. However, it is always better to practice healthy habits around pets too, such as washing hands before and after touching them. This will significantly reduce the risk of spreading the virus if present. Abandoning owned pets or not helping street animals for the fear of contracting disease would unquestionably be not the right step since their health benefits are more than potential drawbacks.
Deserting pets after the pandemic ends would be also another issue that requires thought. Understanding that they are not just four-legged animals but our companions who also equally want human support to grow, would help in changing the perspective. The mutual benefits of being together will serve the society in a way that will foster overall health and harmony. Pets will provide an additional source of support during the crisis that will eventually promote the well-being of society. The human-animal interactions are effective in curbing isolation and anxiety in times of such solitude. We should promote awareness regarding fear of disease transmission and the healing effects of pets as a contributory practice of public health management. Dr. Levinson rightly summarizes the said thought - Whether a dog, cat, bird, fish, turtle, or what have you, one can rely upon the fact that one’s pet will always remain a faithful, intimate, non-competitive friend – regardless of the good or ill fortune life brings us.”