A study shows that owning an animal during the pandemic has helped the mental health of pet owners. Becky Wright explains why it’s time to show our animal friends some appreciation
CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Happiful
If you’re a pet owner – no matter whether your animal friend is furry, feathered or scaly – I’m sure you’ll agree that they’ve helped you in some way this year. Whether they’ve provided you with comfort and cuddles on a tough day, given you a sense of purpose and a reason to get out of bed, or been someone to talk to, it feels as though the value of a pet has never been more widely acknowledged than this year. Certainly, as a cat owner who’s been working from home since March, I’ve felt so thankful for my furry co-worker time and time again.
Why are pets good for our mental health?
Amongst many other benefits, animals can provide us with a sense of companionship and routine, and allow us to live in the moment. As counsellor and psychologist Philip Karahassan explains, “Having a pet gives you space outside of your life schedule to show love affection and appreciation for another. In return, not only does your pet give you the same love that you have shown to them, but you also get a sense of responsibility and nurturing from the kindness that you show them.”
The simple act of stroking an animal releases oxytocin, a ‘happy hormone’ that floods our system and helps us relax. This is something that Happiful reader, Farrah, knows all too well. She explains how her cats, Billie and Bowie, have helped her this year.
“They have really helped my husband and me through this year by enhancing our practice of mindfulness – by stroking the cats, feeling the softness of their fur and listening to their soothing purring,” says Farrah. “We’ve been working hard to live in the here and now this year, and our cats really help us do that.”
A study of 6,000 people in the UK by researchers from the universities of York and Lincoln found that pets helped maintain the mental health of owners during the stress and uncertainty of lockdown. Results showed that 91% of dog owners, and 89% of cat owners, felt that their animals helped them cope emotionally with the COVID-19 situation.
It’s not just cats and dogs
And the data shows that these benefits appear to occur with all pets – not just dogs and cats. Yes, 86% who owned ‘other’ pet species acknowledged the same benefit. It’s thought that the social support associated with pet ownership can help to make owners more resilient in tough times – such as in the context of lockdown.
The power of pets in helping to combat loneliness and isolation during such a tough year is a key message in the RSPCA’s Christmas campaign; their heart-warming film touched on the difficulties many faced in recent months.
“We all know that pets make fantastic companions, but to know that not only do they help tackle loneliness but can also improve our mental health is truly amazing!” says Chris Sherwood, chief executive of the RSPCA. “It’s no surprise, therefore, that during what has been a particularly tough year, we have seen a huge surge in people interested in adopting pets.
“We expect to rescue thousands of animals in need this winter – and we can’t do that without the generous support of our fellow animal lovers. We hope this touching film has encouraged supporters to donate to the RSPCA to help us continue our vital work.”