Dog and cat cuddling in the grass

Since March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began in earnest in the United States, pet adoptions have skyrocketed. Recent surveys have found that the people who have added pets to their household over the past year are enjoying the opportunities that the pandemic has allowed them when it comes to spending time with and connecting with their new furry family members.

A survey of 1,000 users found that nearly all (93 percent) of pandemic-pet parents say that their new pets have brought them happiness and comfort during a trying time. Four out of five reported that having a pet at home made working from home more enjoyable.

More than half of the 1,300 people who responded to a Money and Morning Consult survey said that they have been appreciating the extra love and affection they’re able to give their pets now that they are home more often due to the pandemic.

1 in 10 older Americans got a pet in 2020
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And a poll from the University of Michigan found that one in ten older adults (ages 50 to 80) adopted a pet during the pandemic.

Why are pets making such a big impact on their people? There are quite a few reasons that were brought up in the various polls and surveys.

First, for those who lost their jobs or had to drastically cut their hours, a pet gives people something to do and, more importantly, someone to care for. Losing a job can make a person feel useless or helpless, and having a trusting animal depending on them for all of their needs gives their owner a sense of purpose. A pet’s owner is the one that the cat or dog is depending on for food, exercise, veterinary care, and comfort, and most pet owners rise to the occasion and feel good about it.

Many people were all but cut off from socializing, at least in person, for the past year. Humans are social animals, and a lack of socialization can have serious ramifications, including inflammation, depression, and an increased risk of dementia. While Zoom and FaceTime can fill some of the void, there is really no substitute for face-to-face interactions and physical contact. A pet cannot provide the same social stimulation that other humans can, of course, but many people do communicate with their pets and find their antics to be amusing. A dog or a cat provides comfort to its humans, and pets have their own personalities that can add some level of socialization in a period of time when isolation is rampant.

Pets can make their people physically healthier, too. Nobody can lay in bed all day when a dog or cat is asking to be fed, walked, or petted. Dogs, in particular, encourage their owners to get outside and get some exercise because dogs need time outdoors. Most people take their dogs for walks, which can contribute to the 30 minutes of moderate activity per day that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends. In fact, dog owners are four times more likely to get the physical activity they need for good health than their non-dog-owning peers.

Pets raise oxytocin levels in humans
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In addition to the effects that people can see, pets also increase their humans’ oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is a “feel good” hormone that new mothers make when they see, hold, or nurse their babies. The chemical reduces feelings of stress and anxiety and raises feelings of relaxation. This is a symbiotic relationship, too: Dogs also have an oxytocin boost when they spend time looking into the eyes of their favorite humans, making spending time with a pet win-win for both parties.

Can getting a new pet during a pandemic have drawbacks, though? Yes. In some cases, adding a pet to a household can be a stressor. If a family is living on the financial edge, getting a pet, even a free or nearly-free one from a shelter, can increase the economic pinch. Pet food, vaccinations and vet care, leashes and collars, a crate or carrier, and grooming fees add up. The ASPCA estimates that the first year with a cat will cost close to $1,200, and the first year with a dog will cost between $1,500 and $2,000, with large dogs costing the most.

Having the whole family at home more can cause a pet’s arrival to be more stressful in some cases, too. Children making noise and running around can make the pet fearful or more hyper. And when the whole family is trying to work or get schoolwork done in a relatively small space, a barking dog or meowing cat can add to the chaos.

Still, most people have found that pets have enriched their lives during the pandemic, and the pets involved have benefited from shorter stays in shelters and more time with the people they love.

Featured Photo Courtesy: Pixabay