Anxiety and Pets: How Humans (and Animals) Are Dealing with the Current Uncertainty

The coronavirus has led to another pandemic across the country: a mental health crisis. The nation’s emotional and mental health has seen better days, considering over 4 million people have already been infected with the disease, nearly 150,000 have died, and millions of people remain unemployed and worried about their livelihoods.

Whether it pertains to a family member, friend, or co-worker, the pandemic has affected most of our lives in one way or another. The U.S. Census Bureau recently found that around a third of all Americans are currently suffering from depression and/or anxiety. Mass General Hospital also reports that these trends are accelerating across the country as the pandemic stretches on.

This can lead to a range of behavioral changes, including new eating and sleeping patterns, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and substance abuse. Sustained mental and emotional duress can also worsen certain health conditions.

As it turns out, your pets can feel the anxiety as well, another surprise side effect of the pandemic. Let’s find out how our mental health is affecting our pets, and vice-versa.

The Stress of COVID-19 on Animals

Lack of sleep or new sleeping patterns is one of the biggest side effects of anxiety and depression. In case you were wondering, your animals pay attention to your sleeping patterns.

Dr. Chris Norris from SleepStandards, a non-profit that tracks sleeping patterns all over the globe, recently conducted a study on how these new trends are affecting our pets. The group surveyed 1,047 pet owners across the United States. They found that pets could be feeling secondhand anxiety from their owners who are coping with lifestyle changes caused by the pandemic. The study shows:

  • 60% of respondents have noticed an anxiety-related behavior in their pets during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 68% of those pet owners are dealing with anxiety themselves.
  • 4 out of 10 pet owners would consider giving up their pet if they get infected during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • 58% of pet owners worry about leaving their pets at home when it’s time to return to work.
  • More than 20% of pet owners still put face coverings on their pets even though covering a pet’s face could harm them.

Clearly, the pandemic has led to a range of strange behaviors that could do more harm than good.

For starters, we know that very few animals have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization. If you’re taking your dog or animal for a walk, there is NO reason to have them wear a face mask. This could actually limit their oxygen supply, especially on a hot day.

There is also zero evidence to suggest that animals can pass the disease onto their owners, so you don’t have to worry about getting sick after letting your dog run around at the park.

If a person comes down with COVID-19, they may have trouble taking care of their furry friend, but they don’t need to get the pet out of the house for its own safety. It’s extremely unlikely that the person will pass the disease onto their pet. Unlike humans, there’s also no evidence to suggest that animals are dying from the disease.

How Pets Can Help with Anxiety

Numerous studies have shown that having a pet, such as a dog or a cat, can reduce depression, anxiety, and stress. Pets can also be a stand-in for other people at a time when social distancing is a must. While working from home, many pet owners have started treating their animals like colleagues amid the pandemic. These furry creatures can replicate the sense of being around others without the added risk.

The SleepStandards study also found that 91% of respondents stated that having a pet helps them during quarantine and the age of social distancing.

Statistics show us that pet ownership and adoption rates have been on the rise. Numbers soared during the first few months of the pandemic, but they have since leveled off.

Why?

Many rescue centers and shelters say they have simply run out of animals to give away. The U.S. is reaching a pet shortage. If you’ve been thinking about adopting a pet to help you get through quarantine, you may be out of luck.

Other Ways to Curb Anxiety

This is a difficult time for all of us. If you’re looking for other ways to curb your anxiety or depression without taking on the added responsibility of caring for a pet, there are lots of alternative things you can do to relieve this tension.

The CDC website is full of helpful information on how to deal with the uncertainty of the pandemic. You can connect with a mental health professional, learn how these trends are changing human behavior, and better manage your depression and anxiety without relying on unhealthy habits, such as drinking or smoking.

They have tips and resources for coping with:

  • Job loss, lack of revenue
  • The death of a friend or loved one
  • The constant threat of disease or illness
  • Caregiving
  • Prolonged isolation
  • Homelessness and being forced to live in crowded settings

Keep these trends in mind as we continue living with uncertainty, while trying to make sense of our “new normal”.

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