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Experts say pets can help people feel less lonely as well as provide joy during the isolation of the COVID-19 outbreak. Getty Images
  • Experts say a pets can help people deal with loneliness and isolation during COVID-19 shelter in place orders.
  • They add that pets, especially dogs, can help motivate people to go outside to exercise and take breaks from work.
  • Pet adoptions are on the rise during the COVID-19 outbreak, but experts say people should take into consideration where they live and whether they have time to shop for pet food or take an animal to a vet.

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date.

There has been a silver lining during the COVID-19 pandemic for pet shelters and pet rescue centers.

Adoptions of dogs and cats have surged during the outbreak and the phenomenon has been beneficial for both pets who need a home and for people who are sheltering in place.

“It has truly been a game-changer in the sheltering world,” said Kitty Block, president and chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the United States.

Block told Healthline that a review by the organization Pethealth indicates that pet adoptions are up 100 percent from last year.

For some people, pets are making a big difference in the isolated world of COVID-19.

Ronni Gordon, a freelance writer based in Massachusetts, is finding solace with her 13-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever.

“If I didn’t have her, I would be very lonely,” Gordon told Healthline. “The dog helped me recover from leukemia and now she is helping me get through self-isolation because you’re not really isolated when you are living with another living being.”

Gordon says her dog Maddie makes sure she goes for walks despite her fears.

“My blood pressure has been high,” Gordon said. “I am a cancer survivor and slightly immunocompromised and am afraid to go anywhere.”

She says her dog can help allay those fears.

“The other day before taking my blood pressure, I hugged the dog. I could feel the calm radiating. [My blood pressure] was normal,” she said. “There is a real chemical reaction, and I can definitely feel myself calm down.”

“If I wake up anxious, when I see her in the morning and greet her, I feel better,” she added.

Feeling better is on everyone’s wish list right now.

“We actually decided to adopt the day after my daughter came home to quarantine with us,” says Annie Biskar, former early childhood education administrator and wife to a geriatric medical internist in California’s Coachella Valley.

“She is 22 and was moving back in with her parents after almost graduating, almost having a job, almost starting her adult life,” Biskar told Healthline.

“She couldn’t get out of bed. She felt guilty for being so gutted about her situation when everyone was suffering, but she couldn’t force herself out from under the covers,” she added.

A pet seemed to be the right prescription.

“As her mother, and someone who suffers horribly from depression, I knew the only thing that could distract or interrupt the negative stimuli was to focus on someone/something other than herself,” Biskar said. “But, you can’t tell yourself to do that anymore than you can tickle yourself. Some things are just not mind over matter.”

So, she took action.

“It was decided. I told her, get out of bed, we are going to the shelter,” Biskar said.

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the shelter limits visitor access to prevent unnecessary exposure.

“So my daughter stepped forward. She sent me a text with a photo that said, ‘I found her!’” Biskar said. “She emerged from the shelter with a slender small female tabby missing half of her left ear, and my daughter was beaming.”

Honey Badger, or Honey for short, is adjusting well to her new home and already providing support to the whole family.

“There is something so comforting about a pet during these times. They have no idea what’s going on out there. They are safe and neutral ground,” Biskar said.

“In a crisis, when I feel so out of control, taking care of someone, some other being, makes me feel like I am taking back control over my life,” she added. “Pets bring no baggage to the relationship. Their needs are simple: comfort, food, shelter — basic.”

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Bianca Grin, 47, during one of her daily walks with her 2-year-old dog, Luna, in Bucharest, Romania. Photo by Andrei Pungovschi/AFP via Getty Images

“Pets are great for mental health,” said Deborah Roth Ledley, PhD, a licensed psychologist in Pennsylvania and author of “Becoming a Calm Mom.”

“During shelter in place, pets can keep us company and give us some levity during a really serious time,” Ledley told Healthline. “They give unconditional love and make people feel less lonely, particularly if they live alone.”

Julie Morgenstern, productivity coach, speaker, and author of “Never Check E-mail in the Morning,” says pets can help in several ways during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Pets can help us counteract two of the biggest pain points that come with this pandemic: the isolation that comes from social distancing and the worry and anxiety that are part and parcel of dealing with this pandemic,” Morgenstern told Healthline.

Block agrees.

“It’s been shown that caring for a pet can provide a sense of purpose and fulfillment, and can be associated with decreased feelings of loneliness and depression, which is more important than ever as people are socially distancing,” she said.

“Pets also can be motivators for exercising and helping with issues such as anxiety and depression, which right now many people are struggling with given the increased isolation,” she added.

Ledley says dog owners, in particular, have the advantage of getting more exercise than the rest of us.

She notes that a 2019 study reported that dog owners spent close to 300 minutes each week walking with their dogs. That was, on average, about 200 more minutes of walking than people without dogs.

Karen Asp is a volunteer for the Allen County SPCA and the author of “Anti-Aging Hacks.” She has been sheltering in place since March 24 with her dog Jessie, cat Toby, and husband.

She suggests the routine nature of caring for our companion animals helps us live normal lives, despite these uncertain times.

“Because they thrive on routine (how many times, after all, has your pet called you out for not sticking with their regular feeding schedule?), they will demand that you stick with that schedule, and having that consistent routine, even if it’s just in relation to your pet, can make you feel more in control of things, increase the chance you’ll spend your day more effectively, and reduce stress,” Asp told Healthline.

When working from home, these are all performance boosting advantages, says Morgenstern.

“I think pets can actually really help with productivity in a variety of ways,” she told Healthline.

For example, she says, “Stopping at a couple of points during the day to spend time with your cats/dogs and play with them provides a necessary break from constant work and this helps you think better, solve problems more efficiently, and gain perspective and be efficient.”

“They also can crack you up, and laughing is good for energy and productivity as well,” said Morgenstern.

“If there are certain activities in the day where you can’t afford to be interrupted by a cat walking over your keyboard, or a dog barking while on a conference call, find a spot in the house you can close the door for just that activity,” she added.

Whether you should adopt a pet during a pandemic depends on who you ask.

“Absolutely,” says Block. “The companionship is enriching for both the humans involved and pets, and now can be a great time to settle a pet into your home and get to know each other, as many people are working from home.”

Ledley offers additional perspective.

“A lot of people have been talking about adopting an animal because they have time to commit to getting acquainted with a pet, training, etc.,” Ledley says.

“I can see this side of the argument, but I don’t think now is a great time,” she explained. “Often, with new pets, there are health concerns that require frequent vet visits and we cannot do this right now.”

For example, she says, “I have a patient who got a new dog in the fall. She was new to this area and she thought a puppy would help her to feel less lonely.”

“The dog had a lot of health issues and required frequent vet visits, trips to the pharmacy for prescriptions, etc.,” she said. “There was a lot of stress associated with whether the dog was going to recover.”

“My patient had to deal with all of this in a new city, where she knew no one — in other words, with no social support,” Ledley added. “Although the dog is now healthy and a great source of comfort now, I can’t imagine someone dealing with all of this under the current shelter in place rules.”

Depending on where you live, having a pet can also make sheltering in place additionally challenging.

“For people who live in apartment buildings, going up and down in elevators to walk dogs would mean less ability to completely shelter in place,” says Ledley.

“Also, all supplies are difficult to get now and it is hard enough getting people food and supplies, so it might increase stress to try to get pet food, extra cleaning supplies, etc.,” she added.

If now isn’t the right time to adopt, there are other opportunities to help shelters and rescues in the future.

“What’s important is that the interest is sustained as shelters are bracing for an increase in intakes and owner surrender due to financial strain and widespread human illness,” Block said.

“We haven’t yet seen a huge influx of surrenders, but we’re early into this, and as the situation progresses and people struggle with finances even more, I have no doubt we will see rates rise,” Asp said.

“Other shelters around the country are also worried about high surrender rates,” she said. “Please consider fostering.”