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Our Faithful Companions During Lockdown

The COVID-19 lockdown brings with it a multitude of issues, from using a makeshift office at home, whilst home-schooling a bored 7 year old and finding new ways to fill the hours without resorting to cooking ever more exotic meals and eating them.
Many people are sharing their lockdown with members of their family of course and in the UK another 12 million households are also staying at home with at least one pet.
To non-pet owners, this might sound like a huge inconvenience – another mouth to feed, another personality to make room for and in the case of a dog, a creature that still expects to be exercised a few times a day.
However, what these non-pet owners don’t realise, and a reason they may remain non pet owners, is that having a pet share your lockdown with you is actually a huge advantage.
Feline fine in lockdown
Take cats, for example. The cliché has it that cats are fickle creatures, lacking the kind of easily expressed, unconditional affection that dogs regularly lavish upon their owners, only sticking around because they’ve found a steady supply of food. And cardboard boxes.
This stereotypical view of cats however, doesn’t take into account the positive impact which owning a cat can have on a person’s mental health.
According to a survey carried out jointly by Cats Protection and the Mental Health Foundation, interviews with 600 people – half of whom described themselves as currently having a mental health problem – revealed that 87% felt that having a cat had a positive impact on their wellbeing, while 76% said it helped them cope with everyday life better.
The COVID-19 lockdown is anything but everyday life, of course, but the kind of stress and anxiety it’s bound to provoke in even the most grounded of people is exactly the kind of emotion which these cat owners felt their feline friends were helping to contain.
For half of them it was simply the presence and companionship which was the most helpful, while a third singled out the direct calming effect that comes from stroking a cat. It’s the kind of finding replicated in study after study.
Working animals charity SPANA polled 2,000 workers on the topic of stress in 2019 and whilst it detailed the stress the average working environment places on employees, it also found a massive 83% of those stressed workers felt owning a pet helped reduce their stress levels.
Happiness is owning a pet
Clinical trials have shown that interaction with a pet triggers the release of ‘happiness hormone’ oxycontin, which is probably why studies shown pet owners are less likely to suffer depression and have lower blood pressure, with reduced levels of triglyceride and cholesterol (both indicators of heart disease).
In addition to this, it has been reported that heart attack patients with pets survive longer than those without, while pet owners over the age of 65 make 30% fewer visits to their doctors.
Just as the degree of stress and anxiety felt by virtually everyone is currently magnified, so the benefits of pet ownership are thrown starkly into relief during a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.
Staying home for many people has removed even the final vestige of exercise, the simple walk to and from the shops, which again can have serious health and mental wellbeing repercussions.
If you own a dog, however, then walking every single day isn’t just an option, it’s an absolute necessity. Clipping that lead on and getting outside, whilst maintaining all social distancing measures, will not only keep your body ticking over it will help to boost mental health.
Being out in the fresh air and noting that nature appears to be coping perfectly well without so many people around, not to say thriving, is one of the few certain ways to give your spirits a lift while lockdown continues.
Focus and structure helps
The other major role a pet can play in helping you to cope with being under virtual house arrest is to give the days a focus. It can be easy, without the structure which normal working and social life imposes on us, to slip into a state in which every hour of the day and consequently every day of the week runs into the next.
For the first few days this might seem like a novelty, but long term it will make the open-ended nature of lockdown even harder to cope with.
With a pet to look after, however, it simply isn’t an option – he or she will still want to wake you up at the same time, be fed when they expect to be fed and demand walks, attention and distraction.
And it’s not just cats and dogs. Aquarium will need cleaning, straw will need changing, coats will need brushing and dishes will need washing – all jobs that bring focus to your day.
Also a pet can provide a wonderful escape from the current crisis. If you feel overwhelmed by dread about COVID-19, the medical impact or the economic fallout, try to ground yourself for a while by breathing slowly to calm down and clear the thoughts triggering your stress.
This can be difficult in isolation, but much easier when you spend 5 or 10 minutes making a fuss of a pet. ‘Living in the moment’ can sound like a bit of a hippy cliché, but there’s really no other way to describe stroking a cat or dog as it nuzzles into you, tickling a happy rabbits belly or playing a game of fetch with your iguana – okay that may take longer.
For clinical, practical and emotional reasons, your pet could end up playing a major role in helping you get through the COVID-19 crisis. Rather than being just another thing to worry about, they could be one of the things that helps you stop worrying and enjoy everyday life despite everything.

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