Australia has one of the highest pet ownership rates in the world, with over 60 per cent of households owning one or more pets. And in the aftermath of Covid-19 isolation restrictions, pet ownership has risen nationwide.
The RSPCA, as well as other pet rescue organisations in every state and territory, have noted a huge increase in adoption applications, up by as much as 50 per cent compared to the same time last year.
Even before the coronavirus outbreak made headlines, about a third of pet owners in Australia generally preferred to interact with their pets rather than with other people — at least some of the time. For many people, pets serve an important function in helping to relieve stress and provide comfort as well as a positive emotional connection. This may be especially true for older Australians, as research has demonstrated the positive impact of companion animals on both physical and mental wellbeing.
But, how do pets really help, especially in times of crisis? The answer is, in a variety of ways and most likely in different ways depending on the person’s circumstances and also on the kind of pet they have in their home. Many studies have shown that walking dogs provides both exercise and socialisation benefits. Interacting with pets, whether it be a budgie or a cat, is mentally stimulating and takes the person away from their worries and concerns.
These sorts of benefits are particularly important during the current Covid-19 situation, which has moved through stages of intense social isolation, constrained movement around communities and health concerns for many people, through to the current wave of eased restrictions. Initially, heightened concerns about interacting face-to-face with other people caused both anxiety as well as a longing for some sort of physical closeness. Sheltering in place with pets provided much needed physical contact and affection, in a safe and reciprocal manner.
Increased time due to many people working from home, combined with social distancing proved the impetus for many people to acquire a pet. For older adults concerned with increased health risks associated with exposure to the virus, pets increased in importance — providing social interaction as well as a grounding in everyday needs. Feeding and exercising a pet reminds people that they need to eat and exercise themselves!
Pets are a source of comfort in the face of distressing situations. Interacting with companion animals decreases physiological arousal and stress, which over time can cause both physical and psychological distress. Chronic stress has also been related to an increased risk of developing dementia, as well as with poorer health outcomes longer-term.
Loneliness has been an unwanted by-product of social isolation, and here too research strongly supports the roles pets play in reducing loneliness. This is especially true for those who live alone as the animal presents an important emotional presence, offering connection and meaningful companionship. Pets truly have served an important function during the Covid-19 crisis and as people move forward, they will continue to provide vital emotional and social support for people.
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.
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