The power of pets can help in difficult times

With strict ‘stay-at-home’ measures in place, the British public has retreated indoors to stop the spread of the Coronavirus. As we all do our best to protect our health and the health of those around us, it’s important to remember our mental health as well.

 

One group in our society remains unphased and solid through the coronavirus outbreak and that is our furry friends. Whether entertaining the masses online, through memes, videos, and GIFs or providing a well-needed cuddle, our pets remain a loving constant.

We all know that animals can bring joy, but research has shown that they can actually improve and support our mental health. Many of the things that pet owners take for granted like soft hugs and joyful greetings are remedies for issues like depression and anxiety.

A recent study by the Mental Health Foundation found that 87% of cat owners’ experience positive effects on their wellbeing and 76% cope better with everyday life because of the company provided by their feline friends. Canines are also an important part of mental health support, with organisations like Assistance Dogs UK training our tail-wagging buddies to benefit the mental wellbeing of thousands of people across Britain.

Research has shown that dog owners in particular recover from illness far quicker than non-owners and elderly dog owners visit the doctor 30% less than others. The science indicates that interaction with dogs can reduce blood pressure and elevate the creation of dopamine and serotonin (the calming chemicals). Petting, stroking and being with pets has also been proven to reduce the production of cortisol (the stress chemical). That is because household animals fulfil the basic human need for touch.

 

Pets in difficult times

Due to the clear health benefits a pet can bring, Therapy dogs are used in care homes and hospitals to help residents and patients reap the rewards and impact to their wellbeing.

Pet therapy could be something we all need right now as our brains persistently buzz with the uncertainty of the future. Our pets don't judge, and instead provide structure and routine. Their joy reminds you that you are needed and loved. They can be funny, caring, strong and provide a sense of normality when normality is disrupted.

Man’s best friend has evolved so well around humans that they are able to interpret our moods, body language and behaviour. This means that like any good pal they can support us during our most difficult times and, it comes as no surprise that dogs are also a great source of comfort during bereavement.

Taking up the mantle of heroes like the terrier, Greyfriars Bobby, dogs continue to provide light and strength in times of loss. ITV featured Basil the Beagle, a funeral therapy dog in Shrewsbury who went from household pet to a key member of the funeral director’s team. At the request of grieving families in Shropshire, Basil has attended many funerals, providing comfort to the mourners in attendance.

 

Adopt a pet

Many pet shelters are partially closed or closing entirely to ensure the safety of their staff and to adhere to lockdown guidelines. While government regulations mean that pet adoption and fostering is currently paused, organisations like Battersea Dogs Home and the Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home will have an increased need for forever homes when they reopen. Adopting a pet could provide much needed comfort and respite, whilst also doing a great thing for a pet in need.

 

The everyday can be hard enough, but in these increasingly difficult times perhaps we can also turn to our animal community for comfort. Whether you’re a cat person, a dog person or just love a pet meme, don’t underestimate the effect they can have on your life.