With the UK having gone into lockdown on 23 March 2020 – and no immediate sign of when life will return to some level of normality – many people across the country have found this has had an adverse effect on their emotions and mental health.
Many British households are already home to pets of all sizes, whilst others still have taken the opportunity to rehome animals in need. But there are many ways in which animals have been vital to a lot of people during lockdown, and Paul Houlden, founder of Animal Rescue Foundation , explains how our furry (and non-furry) friends can help.
Many vulnerable Britons have had to self-isolate for a long period of time due to their age and various health conditions, with the aim of keeping them safe. For many, that means they have not been able to see or speak to anyone for months.
While our pets cannot talk back to us – and we are unsure of what they fully understand – those of us with beloved pets know how common it is to talk to them. But it’s not just being able to talk to them that’s key during lockdown, it’s generally feeling as though you’re not alone – and you are never truly alone when you have a pet.
Keeping us active
It’s obvious that dog owners are active as they must venture outside to give them their daily walks – whether that’s in the back garden or outdoors while social distancing from others. For many, it’s there only reason to get out of the house, and it gives an incentive to exercise. It’s not just dogs that keep us active though; even just playing with our pets around the home is keeping us active and getting us off the sofa.
Helping us to keep calm
Stress can have a serious, negative effect on our bodies, but interacting with friendly animals has been proven to reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, while simultaneously increasing the levels of oxytocin – another chemical that reduces stress naturally.
Good for our overall health
A study was conducted some 30 years ago, by Psychologist Alan Beck (Purdue University) and Psychiatrist Aaron Katcher (University of Pennsylvania), that looked at the relationship between pets and mental health – the first of its kind. What it found was amazing: those who had the opportunity to pet a friendly dog were found to benefit from:
- Reduced blood pressure
- Slower heart rate
- More regular breathing
- Relaxed muscle tension
And we all know it’s not just dogs that lead to these benefits.
Giving us a purpose
Having someone or something that relies on us for everything is an important daily role that pet owners shouldn’t take for granted. To our pets, we are their whole world, and we rely on them for many things without being consciously aware of it.
It’s been proven that those with pets feel more needed and wanted with a pet in their homes, relying on them, and this is crucial right now when other aspects of life may be confusing or up in the air.
Many Britons have found themselves out of work, due to redundancies or furlough schemes, and therefore have no real structure to their day. This can lead to various mental health issues, including depression.
However, the act of caretaking for a pet provides purpose and structure. You know that you need to get out of bed to feed them, play with them, and keep them occupied. Those that can be walked outdoors (dogs, cats, ferrets and more) also encourage us to go outside and partake in physical activity.
Promote relationships and social interaction
When taking your pet for a walk outdoors, you’ll likely encounter many other pet owners doing the same, and more often than not people are open to a ‘hello’ which can lead to an exchange about your pets.
But outside of that, we are all guilty of loving to talk about our pets – whether that’s with our friends, those who have similar pets and even online in dedicated chat groups, forums, various social media pages, accounts and more.
It’s important that you fully weigh up the pros and cons before rehoming a pet in need however. This animal will be fully reliant on you, they aren’t cheap to take care of and they are not a short-term solution to ease your boredom.
Paul Houlden, founder of Animal Rescue Foundation