Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, pets were serving an important role for consumers by helping to reduce stress levels. Since the pandemic started earlier this year, experts have found that pets’ roles have become even more important.
According to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of South Australia, pets have provided consumers with a source of physical touch that has been lacking since the start of the pandemic. Not only has pet adoption skyrocketed in recent months, but the researchers found that consumers with pets were less lonely, had greater self-worth, and felt less isolated than those without a furry companion.
“In the era of COVID-19, social distancing, sudden lockdowns, and societal upheavals, our pets may be the only living beings that many people are able to touch and draw comfort from,” said researcher Dr. Janette Young.
The importance of a companion
To better understand what role pets have played during the pandemic, the researchers interviewed more than 30 pet owners and had them answer questions about their relationship with their pets since the pandemic began. The overwhelming majority of the participants revealed that having a pet as a source of physical touch was beneficial for relaxation and reducing overall stress.
“In a year when human contact has been so limited and people have been deprived of touch, the health impacts on our quality of life have been enormous,” said Dr. Young. “Touch is an understudied sense, but existing evidence indicates it is crucial for growth, development, and health, as well as reducing the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. It is also thought that touch may be particularly important for older people as other senses decline.”
Many of the participants also shared that their pets had an intuitive sense of their needs and would get close to them when they sensed times of stress or discomfort. Additionally, the participants reported that their pets felt just as comforted by these interactions as they did.
Utilizing pets to improve health outcomes
Moving forward, the researchers hope that these findings can inspire real change for those who would benefit the most. Having a pet can make a lasting difference in consumers’ lives, and more work should be done to make that a reality for consumers.
“Humans have an innate need to connect with others, but in the absence of human touch, pets are helping to fill this void,” Dr. Young said. “They need to be considered from a policy angle, therefore, to help mitigate some of the mental and physical stressors that people are experiencing during this time.”