Managing stress and anxiety has become an increasingly important part of our everyday lives especially due to the impact of COVID-19. Unfortunately, many have experienced increased anxiety and worsening depression due to social distancing and shelter in place, along with the uncertainly of our immediate future.1 Some have adjusted successfully to our new lifestyles, while others still may be struggling to find a proper balance.
According to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals (ASPCA), 6.5 million companion animals enter shelter systems each year.2 Adoption helps these animals by providing them a good home but can actually help us with our health. Pets provide powerful health benefits that we may not be aware of for instance, being able to tune into our behavior and emotions. Some animals, especially dogs, recognize and process the tone of our voice, our body language, and our gestures.
Pets can help reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and ease loneliness by providing companionship, and improve cardiovascular health by encouraging exercise and playfulness. The presence of a pet is associated with decreased CV reactivity to stressors, that this stress-reducing effect is great than the effect of the presence of a good friend, and that acquiring a pet leads to improved health status.3 Pets help to provide a sense of security. Animals can add an unconditional love and joy to any life if they are treated with compassion and respect. One of the main reason’s pets help with mental health is by fulfilling the basic human need for touch. Pets are used by many organizations (hospitals, airports, prisons, schools, etc.) to help improve morale and endorphins (serotonin and dopamine) of people that may be struggling.4
Studies have been able to show various benefits of pet ownership and interaction. For example, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in families owning some type of pet had greater pro-social behaviors in “assertion,” when compared with children without pets.5 Additionally, Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) intervention decreased the agitated behaviors and increased the social interaction of older adults with dementia.6 Next, physical activity may be promoted through encouragement of walking a dog, since this is a low-cost, low-risk activity suitable for people of all ages that could yield lower odds of overweight or obesity.7 Finally, pet adoption, rescue, or purchase may be associated with some future reduction in Cardiovascular Disease (CVD).8 As more pets are adopted, research can expand to find new benefits of owning a pet.
Many of my patients, friends, and family have asked me how they can help with COVID-19 relief. I truly believe that a great way to make a positive impact is to donate financially or volunteer time at an animal shelter. With or without your current pet(s), consider fostering one or more pets or choose an animal for adoption. Recommended national organizations include aspca.org and Best Friends, while there are many local organizations in your area that can truly benefit from assistance.
Veradigm is committed to finding ways to help improve health.
3Friedmann E, Thomas SA. Pet ownership, social support, and one-year survival after acute myocardial infarction in the Cardiac Arrhythmia Suppression Trial (CAST). Am J Cardiol. 1995;76(17):1213-1217.
5Carlisle GK. The social skills and attachment to dogs of children with autism spectrum disorder. J Autism Dev Disord. 2015;45(5):1137-1145. doi:10.1007/s10803-014-2267-7