cute couple (featuring fellow CareContenter, Natalie) posing with their dog by Lake Michigan

Comfort, Companionship, And Extra Precautions: Pet Ownership During COVID-19

As I sit here and type, my dog’s chin is resting on my leg, looking up at me and begging to be pet. And of course, I give in. This is the life of a pet owner during COVID-19 — and pets are just soaking it all in.

Whether it’s more walks, extra playtime, or plenty of opportunities for cuddles, pets are one group that’s reaping the benefits of stay-at-home orders. As the coronavirus pandemic washes over the country, many are finding themselves at home a bit more frequently, something the Fidos and Whiskers of the world have zero complaints about. (Well … some cats do, but that’s another story.)

While it’s true that our furry friends have been extremely content recently, the benefits extend to their human counterparts, as well. Social distancing has many people physically isolated, and pets are offering up their constant companionship, love, and affection — something almost everyone needs a little more of right now.

The Benefits Of Pet Companionship During A Pandemic

Pets can help their owners cope with stress, anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness and isolation — all of which are common during a pandemic. In fact, 74% of pet owners say they’ve experienced mental health improvements as a result of having a pet.

Source: Anxiety and Depression Association of America

As people are working from home, doing schoolwork at home, and, well, doing a lot of things at home, pets are living their best lives. However, as a few domestic animals recently tested positive for coronavirus, pet owners have questions about how the virus can impact their beloved animals.

Here’s what you need to know about keeping your pets (and yourself) safe during the COVID-19 pandemic — and some benefits of having them around.

Can My Pet Contract COVID-19?

On April 22, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced every pet owners’ biggest fear — two cats from different parts of New York State tested positive for coronavirus. Then, about a week later, the family of a pug in North Carolina received the same news.

Okay, maybe it’s not our biggest fear, but it’s certainly one that’s crossed my mind plenty of times, especially since dogs need to go outside.

Here’s the thing — animals testing positive for coronavirus doesn’t necessarily mean they have the same illness as people or that they can pass it on to humans. Also, no humans are missing out on a test as a result of testing these animals, as the tests are completely different for animals and pets (phew!).

However, the key to all of this (and the key to understanding this entire pandemic, really) is that this is all extremely new. The CDC says the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to humans is low — but they don’t say that it’s out of the realm of possibility. It does seem like the virus can be spread from people to animals, but it’s still a little murky how that can possibly impact pets.

To keep you, your pets, and everyone around you safe, it’s important to follow the CDC’s guidelines regarding COVID-19 and pets for now, including:

  • Not letting your pets interact with people or pets outside of your household
  • Keeping cats indoors, when possible
  • Walking dogs on a leash and keeping at least 6 feet away from other people and animals
  • Avoiding dog parks and large gatherings of animals or people

In addition, if you are sick with COVID-19 (either suspected or confirmed):

  • Have another person care for your pets, if possible.
  • Avoid contact with your pets, including petting, sharing a bed, or being kissed (I know, this is a tough one).
  • If you have to care for your pet, wear a cloth face covering, and wash your hands both before and after interacting with them.

Basically, the guidelines are to treat your pets as family members, which is what most pet owners do anyway. For now, this just requires a little extra diligence and precaution.

Cuddles, Love, And A Reason To Brush Your Hair In The Morning

The simple presence of a pet can be a significant source of comfort. Whether you live alone or with a family of five, you’re probably communicating with fewer people in person due to social distancing. However, social interaction is a true human need, and a lack of it can negatively impact a person’s overall wellbeing.

Enter your pet. Even though they may not actually know what you’re saying, they’ll probably listen to you if you want someone to talk to. Plus, they won’t get annoyed with your constant chatter during the most recent episode of Tiger King.

Talking to your pets may feel silly, but it can be good for your mental health. It combats feelings of loneliness and isolation, which most people are a little more at risk of right now.

Pets aren’t just there for your entertainment, however (though I will say that watching my dog play with her puzzle toys has provided me with plenty of laughs recently). Pets are living, breathing creatures — and they require attention and care.

Dogs need to be taken outside, cats’ litter boxes need to be cleaned, birds need to be fed — these are all things that can provide structure and routine to an otherwise monotonous-seeming life. I can say from experience that the only reason I’ve brushed my hair some mornings is because I need to take the dog out and enter the public world, if only for a very short time.

Whether it’s isolation, loneliness, or a lack of anything to do at the moment, pets are there for you, waiting and probably really excited you’re home. And while the coronavirus pandemic is hitting the world in a very real and challenging way, it’s giving pets what they deserved all along — more of their humans’ companionship.

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