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  • Writer's pictureiCare Community Magazine

How Pets Can Help You Cope During COVID-19

With many of us cut off from loved ones during the coronavirus pandemic, pets offer much-needed companionship—along with a host of mental and physical health benefits.

If you’re an animal lover, you already know how much joy pets can bring. They’re also hugely beneficial to mental and physical health. Research shows that pets can lower blood pressure, boost mood, and reduce anxiety. And of course, they make great companions.

During the coronavirus pandemic, these benefits are more important than ever—especially if you’re feeling isolated and lonely. Here’s what you need to know about the ways pets can help you get through this time, how to keep them safe from coronavirus, and what your options are for fostering or adoption.

Pets can help your mental health right now

There’s no question that pets can go a long way toward helping you feel better during this uniquely stressful pandemic. Here’s how:

  • Easing loneliness. Pets make great companions, which is particularly important now, when so many of us are cut off from family and friends. If you live alone, just having another living creature in the house can make you feel less isolated.

  • Reducing stress. Much of stress comes from worrying about the unknown, which is something most of us are struggling with during this time. Caring for and playing with a pet helps you focus on the present moment and appreciate its joys.

  • Providing emotional support. It’s not just the companionship that makes a difference. Many pets are able to pick up on stress and sadness. Simply knowing you’ve got a loyal pet who’s there for you and loves you no matter what can give you an emotional boost.

  • Adding laughter and levity. It’s hard to stay worried or upset with a cat purring on your lap or a dog looking to play catch. A pet can remind you not to forget the good in life, even in the darkest of times.

  • Giving you purpose. If you’re low on motivation and feel depressed stuck inside your home, caring for a pet will make your days more meaningful. It can also help you stick to a schedule and keep you on track.

Simple ways to get a mental health boost

Make time for play. Pets are often naturally funny, so anything that gets you to crack a smile right now is worth making time for. Play fetch with your dog, break out the catnip mice for your cat, or anything else your pet enjoys doing. If you’re quarantined with others, playing with your pet together is also a good stress-reliever and relationship-strengthening activity.

Snuggle up. Petting, cuddling, and grooming your pet fulfills the human need for touch. It boosts your mood and can even reduce physical pain. The soft texture of your pet’s fur provides tactile stress relief as well.

Share the joy. There’s a reason why cat videos are so popular on the Internet. Animals bring smiles to our faces. So don’t hesitate to share your favorite photos and videos of your pet. They’ll bring happiness to others, especially now, when our social media feeds are dominated by frightening and sad news. As a bonus: it’s a positive and easy way to stay connected.

Shower your pet with loving care. The routine of caring for your pet—feeding, brushing, going on walks—helps give your days structure. But beyond that, making sure that your pet is healthy and happy is fulfilling. You alone are responsible for a living creature’s well-being, and that gives both meaning and purpose to your role as a pet owner.

Dogs help motivate you to get outside and exercise

Staying active and getting out into the sunshine and fresh air are two of the most important things you can do right now to support your mental health and well-being. If you’re depressed or anxious, however, it’s not always easy to follow through. That’s where a dog can help.

Depending on your living situation, your dog may need to go out several times a day for walks and bathroom breaks. Once you’re outside, you may find you feel better. If so, see if you can stretch the walk a little farther. For your own physical and mental health, it’s best to get at least 30 active minutes a day.

Can my pet catch coronavirus?

Although the risk is low, there have been a few cases where pets have contracted COVID-19. This happened mostly when they came in close contact with people who had it, according to the CDC. Therefore, you should treat your pets with the same care as you would yourself and your family members in preventing them from getting sick. This means practicing social distancing guidelines and keeping them away from any household member who feels unwell.

Tips for protecting your pet during coronavirus

As mentioned above, the risk of a pet contracting coronavirus is low, but it’s still smart to play it safe. If you have a dog, that means you’re most likely getting outside for regular walks and fresh air. There’s probably a better chance that you’re meeting your daily exercise requirements as well. Here are some tips on how best to protect your pet and your family when you venture outside.

  • Keep your dog on a leash and make sure they stay the recommended 6 feet from animals outside your household.

  • Avoid the dog parks or other public places where crowds and animals tend to gather.

  • Don’t let other people pet your dog to maintain social distancing guidelines.

  • Keep cats indoors as much as possible.

  • Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth when you go outside.

  • Keep your children from areas that might have dog or cat feces.

Is pet adoption right for me?

It’s tempting to rush out and adopt a pet right now. And many shelters are reporting that they’re almost empty. However, there are some things to consider before you make that commitment. Think about your life after the lockdown or stay-at-home order ends. How will caring for a pet fit into your normal routine? Here are some questions to ask yourself before you take on a new companion.

  • How much time will you have to care for a pet? If you’re getting a puppy or younger cat, they also take time to train.

  • Can you handle the extra expense? Many people are financially stressed right now. A pet may or may not fit in the budget. Make sure you’re able to budget for the costs that come with pet ownership. On top of the upfront cost of adoption, you’ll also need to factor in food, supplies, and veterinary expenses.

  • How much space do you have for a pet? Consider that if you normally work outside the home, your pet will be spending several hours there alone.

  • Does your lifestyle match the type of pet you want? Many of us are taking more walks than we normally would. Be sure the kind of pet you’re looking for fits your likely post-pandemic lifestyle, not the one you have right now or would like to achieve.

Also, keep in mind that many shelters are closed and so are hosting virtual meet-and-greets instead. That means you’ll be choosing your furry friend without holding or playing with them first. Sometimes you can’t tell if you’ll bond with an animal without that interaction, so think about that if you’re considering a permanent arrangement.

Options if you’re not ready to adopt a pet

Even if you’ve realized adoption is not for you, you can still help animals in other ways. Here are some suggestions to give back.

  • Providing foster care. If you can’t commit to caring for a pet full-time, you can provide a temporary home for animals who can’t adapt to the shelter or those who need to be nursed back to health.

  • Donating supplies. Contact your local animal shelter and find out what they need during this time.

  • Helping a pet-owning family. Many are being hit hard by job loss and instability. Being unable to afford pet care and supplies is a common fear during this time. Find out from your local animal shelter how you can help another family.

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