Mind-Body Health

Hug it Out! How and Why to Connect with Your Pets During Social Distancing

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Pets add so much to your life on a daily basis. Now, more than ever, they can help you combat the serious loneliness, depression, and isolation that potentially comes along with this pandemic. Dogs, cats, hamsters, rats, lizards, fish, turtles, snakes, insects, birds—whatever your choice—all make great companions. Connecting with nonhuman life at a time when everyone is encouraged to stay home and avoid contact is vital. Caring for, cleaning up after, and feeding pets can be a lot of work, it’s true. But they are also excellent sources of great joy and deep love.

Although it’s not a good idea to allow strangers to pet or touch your animals, the coronavirus (COVID-19) has not been shown to be passed on through contact with pets. It is always recommended, however, to wash your hands before and after you play with your pet. If you don’t have a pet of your own, take a walk through your neighborhood (if that’s currently permitted) and notice what animals you see and hear. If you’re stuck inside without a pet, check out the live cameras at some of the world’s most famous animal attractions like the San Diego Zoo and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Here’s why it’s helpful to connect with your pets during social distancing:

They Are Good Listeners

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Animals might just be the best listeners. If you are feeling lonely or craving community, turn to your sweet nonhuman friend and share your heart. Animals can help you heal and remind you how to be effective communicators: they often maintain eye contact, they don’t talk back or give unsolicited advice, and unless you’ve trained your pet bird to speak, your secrets will be safe with them!

It Helps Them Too

Animals pick up on your energy. If you have been feeling panicked, weary, or sad lately, your beloved pet probably knows. They can tell when something is off. By soothing them with words, gentle touch, and attention, you will be comforting each other.

They Are a Good Distraction

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Your pets can help you get off the phone/computer. Animals can remind you to stay in the here-and-now since they are very present-moment oriented. Take at least two minutes every hour to connect with your animal and your brain and body will enjoy a nice reboot.

Here are some ways to connect with your animals during this time (and anytime really!). Though most of these ideas are shared with our four-legged friends in mind, we encourage you to creatively adapt them in ways that make sense for your particular pet.

Play

Though not all animals play (do sea anemones play?), many do. You can wrestle or play fetch with your doggy, throw a toy for your kitty, or trace your finger on the fishbowl for the fish to follow. Play, for children, adults, and animals alike, is a cognitively rich experience that has intellectual, social, emotional, and physical benefits. Tug-of-war never sounded so good!

Snuggle

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If you’ve been feeling the lack of connection and touch lately, your pet can be a beautiful placeholder until people can safely hug each other again. Give an extra-long, behind-the-ears scratch to your pup; give your kitten some full-body, purr-inducing strokes; let your hamster climb over your arms; or enjoy a full-on embrace if your animal is amenable. Breathe in sync with your animal as you connect and you’ll both feel the relaxing effects.

Go for a Walk

Your pet may be your only reason to get outside sometimes. Let them be that reminder for you to get fresh air, get off the internet, and remember the wide world. Instead of lamenting the daily task of taking the dog out for that morning stroll, however cold or tiresome, could you allow that to be sacred time? Maybe it’s an activity that the whole family can enjoy together or maybe it’s your 20 minutes of alone time. As you walk the dog, wave to your neighbors (from six feet away, please). Sniff big gulps of air when your dog stops to sniff and cherish this time outdoors. Exercise and fresh air are both mood boosters, so make sure to thank your pet for the opportunity to step outside with a special treat when you get back home.

Cook and Craft for Your Animal

If you find yourself with a lot of time on your hands, get creative! You could bake biscuits for your dog, sew a satchel full of catnip for your kitty, make birdseed cones from scratch, or draw out and redesign your animal’s playpen or cage. Do some research and find out what your animal might most safely enjoy as a snack or a toy and make it into a craft day.

It is often said that your pets are your best friends; though you are prohibited from hanging out with your human best friends for safety purposes, you can make the most of this time, and increase your feelings of well-being, by connecting intentionally with your animal best friends.