As a response to the Covid-19 outbreak, more people are social distancing and undergoing self-quarantine, but man’s best friend can help with emotional support during the isolation.
In a Q and A session published in the Medical Express, University of Arizona biological anthropologist and comparative psychologist Evan MacLean spoke about how dogs may provide welcome emotional support during the pandemic.
MacLean, an assistant professor of anthropology and director of the Arizona Canine Cognition Center in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, says the company of dogs could ease negative mental health impacts as people limit social interactions to help “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of the virus.
When asked ‘what existing research in your field shows how dogs can provide comfort or reduce anxiety?’ MacLean said, “There are a good number of studies that suggest dogs can have a stress buffering effect on people going through challenging times. We see this not only in terms of people’s perceived sense of well-being, but also in terms of physiological measures like heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol—a hormone involved in stress responses. Part of the effect is probably very similar to the support we get from our human friends and family, who can help us to weather the storm. Dogs may provide that same kind of social support, as figures that will be beside us through thick and thin.”
MacLean continued, “One thing we know is that sitting around worrying doesn’t do much good for our mental health. So, refocusing our mental energy on something positive, like playing with your pup or taking a walk together—exercise is also great for stress reduction—could bring welcome relief at a time like this.”
When asked about dogs’ awareness of human emotions, MacLean said, “This is still a very actively researched question without a lot of concrete knowledge. We know dogs respond to many human emotions, but what exactly they tune in to, and whether and how they actually understand our emotions, is still debated. But even if we can’t be sure exactly what they understand about our emotions, as highly social animals they will be tuned into cues about how we are feeling, which may, in turn, affect their own feelings and behavior.”
MacLean also advised, in order to ensure that pets don’t take on undue stress, to breaks here and there to check in on and spend time with your dogs.
“For people working at home, we need little breaks in the day anyway, and this can be a great opportunity to take five, sit down with your dog and just pet them gently. If you think about synchronizing your breath and developing a soft and slow petting rhythm, I suspect that both you and your dog will be feeling relaxed in no time.”
Countries all over the world have imposed lockdowns and many others have seen social distancing, which means dogs across the globe are getting to spend an unprecedented amount of time with their humans, which could only mean a good thing for our furry companions.
During times of self-isolation, it can certainly feel lonely. Humans are social creatures, but the good thing is dogs are too and dog owners will have the comfort of knowing their dogs will be there for them throughout these difficult times. Dogs can be a great source of comfort and companionship and can certainly help alleviate feelings of loneliness.
For those without dogs but who are interested in the company of dogs or other furry friends, now is the opportunity to foster shelter dogs, particularly senior dogs who can use great human companionship.
As for how the coronavirus could impact pets, the World Health Organization has stated that there is no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can transmit COVID-19. However, it was reported last week that a second dog had tested positive for the virus in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s animal-welfare authority stressed that there is currently no evidence that pets can be a source of the virus or that they can get sick from it. “Under no circumstances should owners abandon their pets,” it said.
Vet diagnostic company IDEXX IDXX, -0.19% said thousands of dogs and cats have been tested for Covid-19, and so far, none have tested positive for the virus.
If you are looking for indoor activities to do with your dog, check out the following video: