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Think positive thoughts: What is the pandemic ‘Pet Effect’?

In the start of a series of blogs, we will explore interesting topics during and after lockdown, incorporating initial findings from the Global Covid Study wherever possible.

The theme this week is worries about our pets.

Small doses of stress are healthy, but too much may be exhausting. According to initial results in our survey outlined in Figure 1:

  • Other people not social distancing (51.8%) is the number 1 worry, followed closely behind in second place;
  • The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 (e.g., when it will end, how it is transmitted) (50.8%) and
  • Future plans (46.3%) in third.

An often neglected worry that is less commonly discussed in the media yet features is endorsed by 2.4% of respondents at the end of the spectrum are animal lovers who are particularly worried about their furry animals. What do we know?

Figure 1. Bar chart ranking sources of stress that people have identified during lockdown between 17 April to 28 May 2020.
Pets during and after the Pandemic

The week before the UK lockdown on 23 March saw a sharp surge in pet adoptions. More than 150 dogs and cats reportedly found new homes in London. This is welcome news for pets, and new owners.

But pet ownership is a huge responsibility, and a long-term commitment. Whilst adopting during the pandemic may provide owners with more time to train their pet, more attention to pets, and better relationships (useful sources here), it is important to remember our commitment to pets even after the pandemic. Here are some tips to remember:

  1. Whenever you go out with your pet, make sure they stay at least 2 meters away from others. Even though pets are not known to transmit the virus, the first known case of a tiger in the New York Bronx zoo, and two house cats in New York has made headlines for testing positive for COVID-19.
  2. Cover their paws during walks or clean them before entering your house. Generally, bathing your pet often and thoroughly wash your hands after you’ve been in contact with them are likely good habits to adopt.
  3. Unless your dog requires urgent treatment, avoid going to the veterinary. Further advice on animal care can be found on the UK government website here.
Pets improve your health

While the health benefits of pets, or the ‘pet effect‘ have initially been mixed, the field has grown demonstrated that the effects are largely positive.

  1. Pets are a loyal, accessible source of support and companionship especially during times of crisis. A recent meta-analysis of 17 studies found that pets make good companions to people suffering from mental health problems by supporting individuals psychologically and emotionally and those with/without cardiovascular risk.
  2. Pets may help take our minds away from the daily upsetting news, negative feelings and experiences, yet promote regular routines in lifestyle such as going for a walk, playing ball, and cuddling, which has been found to have health benefits.
  3. Pet ownership has been found to increase self-esteem, decrease loneliness and increase physical fitness. These positive feelings – higher level of satisfaction and companionship – also extend to younger pet owners compared to other pet owners.
Other pet news involved with COVID-19
  • Through their extremely strong sense of smell, dogs can detect low concentration of volatile particles, making them effective ‘sniffers’. A pilot training program from the University of Pennsylvania is using scent detection dogs to discriminate between COVID-19 positive and negative participants. Although it may not be 100% accurate, dogs can help sniff out those who need help faster and in a safer way, and in turn help the healthcare system.
  • On other ocassions, therapy dogs have been particularly helpful in reducing anxiety/stress amongst students (which in turn improves attendance) and in therapy with different populations including children with autism and patients with dementia and other pre-existing health conditions – although more evidence from randomised-controlled trials are needed to test the efficacy of dog-assisted therapy.

Regardless of what your position is with pets, we must protect pets and people during this pandemic. For more pet advice see Battersea Dogs & Cats Home.

This post was co-written by Ms. Laetitia Al Khoury (@LaetitiaAK), a MSc student on the Masters in Child Development degree at UCL and Dr Keri Wong (@DrKeriWong).

How do pets make you feel? Do you have a story to share about you and your pet? Please send your suggestions to contact@globalcovidstudy.com or tag us on @GlobalC19Study (Twitter) and GlobalC19Study (Instagram). We’d love to hear from you!


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