Pets, Touch, and COVID-19: Why Our Furry Friends are Lifeguards

Lockdowns, job losses and social isolation have been the hallmarks of 2020 as COVID-19 tightens its grip on the world, not only infecting millions and leaving a growing death toll, but also depriving humans of the basic feeling – touch.

In the absence of human contact, in millions of families around the world, animals have interfered with the penetration process for many people, providing much-needed comfort by cuddling, patting, and constant physical presence.

A new study published by researchers from the University of South Australia points to the life-saving role pets have played in 2020 and why governments need to sit back and watch.

Journal of Behavioral Economics for Policy The paper (JBEP) explains how pets play a critical role in an era when human-human contact can be life-threatening.

Lead author Dr Janet Young says physical touch is a feeling that was taken for granted – even overlooked – until COVID-19 visited our door earlier this year.

“In a year when human contact was extremely limited and people were deprived of touch, the health impacts on our quality of life were enormous,” says Dr. Young.

“To fill the void of loneliness and provide a buffer against stress, there has been a global rise in the number of people adopting dogs and cats from animal shelters during the lockdowns. Breeders have also been flooded, as the number of waiting lists has quadrupled.”

Spending on pets is already at record levels, exceeding $ 13 billion in Australia and the region of $ 260 billion globally in 2020, but this must be exceeded.

It is estimated that more than half of the world’s population share their lives with one or more pets. The health benefits have been widely reported, but there is little data regarding the specific benefits that pets bring to humans in terms of touch.

“Pets seem to be especially important when people are socially isolated or excluded, providing comfort, companionship and a sense of self-worth,” says Dr. Young.

“Touch is an unexplained sensation, but the existing evidence indicates that it is critical for growth, development and health, as well as reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. It is also thought that touch may be particularly important for older adults as other senses deteriorate.”

In interviews with 32 people, more than 90 percent said touching their pets comforted them – and pets seem to need it, too.

Examples are cited of dogs and cats touching their owners when the latter are upset, sad, or traumatized.

Many people have indicated pets’ innate ability to “know” only when their human counterparts are not feeling well and want to physically approach them.

“The comments we got were that the pets themselves seemed to be just as fun from touch interaction as humans,” says Dr. Young.

Not just dogs and cats. Interviewees mentioned birds, sheep, horses, and even reptiles that come into similar contact.

“Animals, like humans, live and breathe others, and have individual interests, styles and preferences. While culturally, animals are not seen as“ human, ”they are still seen as individuals with likes and dislikes.

“In an era of COVID-19, social distancing, sudden lockdowns and societal turmoil, our pets may be the only organisms that many people can touch and enjoy.

“Humans have an innate need to communicate with others but in the absence of human touch, pets help fill this void. So they must be viewed from a policy angle to help relieve some of the mental and physical stress people experience during this time.”

Dr. Young says hospitals, nursing homes and hospice facilities should encourage pet contacts with residents.

“Residential elderly care has not yet recognized the value of animal-human relationships. Had there been more pets living with their owners in hospice care when the COVID-19 restrictions were in place, it could have helped people immeasurably, she says.


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