Pets are Lifesaving Heroes of the Lockdown

As the virus lockdowns have continued worldwide, job loss and social isolation have pushed humans’ stress levels to a place few could ever have imagined.  Fortunately, in millions of households worldwide, animals have stepped in to comfort, soothe and support many people.  In fact, a new study has recently revealed the lifesaving role that pets have played in 2020. 

The study outlines the crucial role pets are playing in an era where human-human contact can be life endangering.  In addition to helping people cope with loneliness during the lockdown, one of the key ways pets are helping their human family members is by providing a much overlooked necessity for humans:  physical touch.

It is estimated that more than half the global population share their lives with one or more pets. The health benefits have been widely reported, but little data exists regarding the specific benefits that pets bring to humans in terms of touch.

“Touch is an understudied sense, but existing evidence indicates it is crucial for growth, development and health, as well as reducing the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. It is also thought that touch may be particularly important for older people as other senses decline.

“In a year when human contact has been so limited and people have been deprived of touch, the health impacts on our quality of life have been enormous. To fill the void of loneliness and provide a buffer against stress, there has been a global upsurge in people adopting dogs and cats from animal shelters during lockdowns.”  -Dr. Janette Young, researcher

Study Findings Overview

⇒ In interviews with 32 people, more than 90 per cent said touching their pets both comforted and relaxed them – and the pets seemed to need it as well.

⇒ Examples of dogs and cats touching their owners when the humans were distressed, sad, or traumatized were cited.

⇒ Many people referenced pets’ innate ability to just “know” when their human counterparts weren’t feeling well and to want to get physically close to them.

⇒ In addition to dogs and cats, interviewees mentioned birds, sheep, horses and even reptiles who reciprocated touch.


The Takeaway


woman after bath standing with cat in arms

For study participants, human-animal touch generated positive feelings of comfort, relaxation and a sense of cross-species reciprocity. Benefits that are not one way as animal responses to touch and initiation of touch indicate animals also positively benefiting. In our analysis to-date, touch is one of the most pervasive of themes we have identified. Touch emerges as integral to understandings of the concept of a pet for most participants, and meshes with that of reciprocity – the giving, receiving and mutual enjoyment of touch as presented here. This begins to give insights into the psycho-social mechanisms by which pets can impact on human well-being. (source)

“Humans have an innate need to connect with others but in the absence of human touch, pets are helping to fill this void. They need to be considered from a policy angle, therefore, to help mitigate some of the mental and physical stressors that people are experiencing during this time.

“Hospitals, hospices and aged care facilities should be encouraging pet connections with residents.  Residential aged care is yet to recognize the value of human-animal relationships. Had more pets being living with their owners in aged care when COVID-19 restrictions were applied, it could have helped people immeasurably.”   -Dr. Janette Young, researcher


Journal Reference:  Janette Young, Rhianna Pritchard, Carmel Nottle, & Helen Banwell. Pets, touch, and COVID-19: health benefits from non-human touch through times of stress, Journal of Behavioral Economics for Policy, Vol. 4, COVID-19 Special Issue 2, 25-33, 2020.  Journal article pdf / Summary