Since the start of quarantine over six months ago, every one of us, either consciously, subconsciously, or unconsciously, has been going through a seesawing journey of mental health as we face unheard of challenges. We have been almost perpetually alone, seeing no one except for the family members we live with and the occasional neighbor on our way to pick up long-awaited online shopping arrivals (if you are anything like me). This constant aloneness that we might have felt blanketed in during the middle of our home lockdown gave us the chance to explore ourselves and the relationships that surround us. It has demonstrated who our true, loyal friends are, our pets.
Household pets of all kinds, be they furry or feathered, have consistently been recorded as great contributors to the mental health of humans. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), interactions with pets can help people manage their current mental-health conditions as well as reduce stress and alleviate anxiety. They offer constant companionship, love, and affection, all indispensable qualities when it comes to managing mental health problems.
Ownership of a pet impacts physical health. When one owns a pet, especially a dog, there is an increased chance of opportunities for exercise outside. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that some of the health benefits of having a pet include decreased blood pressure, triglyceride levels and cholesterol levels. Getting an appropriate amount of exercise also affects the mental health of individuals.
The physiological and psychological effects that our doting pets have on us is colloquially known as the pet effect. This ‘pet effect’ is currently being studied by the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI). In a 2016 survey study conducted by HABRI found that 74% of pet owners attributed improvements in mental health to their pets. In the same study, 54% of pet owners recorded improvements in physical health due to their pets. It is predicted that the number of pet owners attributing their personal improvements in mental health to their pets will increase.
One of the benefits rarely thought about is the role that pets play in one’s biome. A study conducted at Rutgers University recently concluded that pets are positively linked with illness-free individuals, and thus can be “highly beneficial to human health and may even aid in the development of the human immune system.”
The same study later goes on to state that children ages three-to-six with pets had stronger immune systems and lower rates of sickness than children without pets at home. This biologically makes sense because pets expose us to a greater number of possible contagions that our immune system can become immune to.
The extra time spent at home during the novel coronavirus quarantine has allowed the bonds with our friendly companions to become that much closer. And even now, as we slowly try to enter back into our pre-COVID reality, our bonds are forever impacted by the cherished times spent with them.
As we go back to our regular lives, we must not forget about our truest friends. Even on your busiest day, take some extra time out to give your pet some treats, play with them, or cuddle with them.