Think back six to eight months ago when shelter animals were being rescued at pounds nationwide in record numbers, just as the first COVID quarantine blanketed the nation. As unemployment rates shot up and millions of consumers and children remained fitfully at home, adopting and fostering homeless pets definitely filled an emotional void and helped families conform to the new reality.

This was good news for homeless animals, as local shelters and breeders can no longer hold in-person adoptions due to COVID distancing rules, which drastically reduces animal capacity. This national shutdown has forced shelters to switch to a smaller “foster to adopt model,” and long-term dog and cat adoptions have sustained.

Recent research from the Human Animal Bond Research Institute, in fact, shows that 85% of their human study respondents believed that interaction with pets reduced their feelings of loneliness and social isolation.

Pets and Stress Relief

When humans interact peacefully with animals, clinical research shows a decrease in levels of human cortisol—a powerful stress hormone—along with an increase in feelings of calmness. Other sources of stress relief stem from the release of “feel-good” brain chemicals such as oxytocin, which stimulates relaxation. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), when humans connect with pets, naturally occurring oxytocin levels significantly increase in both species.

Pets and Happy Children

Tending to pets reduces the risk of low-grade anxiety in children. One study found that children with autism spectrum disorder were calmer while playing with rescued guinea pigs in the classroom. When kids spent 10 minutes in a supervised playtime with guinea pigs, their stress levels dropped. Research shows that even watching fish swim in an aquarium, and tending to their basic needs, may help decrease feelings of apprehension and sadness in children.

Pets and Veteran’s Health

Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine discovered that military veterans with PTSD do better both physiologically and emotionally when they have an animal. Dog-owning veterans had significantly fewer symptoms of PTSD and experienced improved coping skills than veterans who did not. Unconditional love from a fuzzy friend can only improve your mood and emotional balance.

Pets and Your Heart

Consistent, moderate walks with your dog encourages weight loss, social interactions (at a distance) and increased energy. One study even found that when people with hypertension adopted dogs from a shelter, their blood pressure declined significantly within five months. Playing and exercising with a dog also decreased their “bad” cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

It’s no secret that dogs, cats, horses, and other companion animals are often more tuned into your moods than the human beings around you. Many of us will always flourish in the company of animals, generous sources of comfort and motivation during COVID, and beyond.

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