Australians around the country reached for their furry friends in lockdown and a new study has found it went beyond just a regular love for their pets.
Pet adoption rates soared from March onwards, with RSPCA Victoria reporting some 20,000-plus dog adoption inquiries in the space of a few months.
Touch deprivation is a real condition and the nature of the pandemic saw many people feeling the distance.
With many humans deprived of contact with friends and relatives we reached for our fur babies. (Or – shout out to the non-traditional pet owners – scaled/feathered babies, )
The University of South Australia delved into just what was behind this craving for touch, publishing its findings this week.
Study lead author Janette Young said the absence of touch had a massive and measurable health impact.
The research team interviewed 32 people, 90 per cent of which said hanging out with their pets made them feel comforted and relaxed.
And apparently, the pets liked it too. Even the cats.
“Pets seem to be particularly important when people are socially isolated or excluded, providing comfort, companionship and a sense of self-worth,” Dr Young said.
“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.”
Some pet owners say their pet “knows” when they’re upset – this sentiment was echoed in Dr Young’s study.
“The feedback we received was that pets themselves seem to get just as much pleasure from the tactile interaction as humans,” Dr Young said.
“Animals, like people, are living, breathing others, with individual interests, styles and preferences. While culturally, animals are not seen as ‘human’, they are still seen as individuals with likes and dislikes.
“In the era of COVID-19, social distancing, sudden lockdowns and societal upheaval, our pets may be the only living beings that many people are able to touch and draw comfort from.
“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.”