Pets of the pandemic: Animals help us cope with COVID-19

From cats to canaries, hedgehogs to horses, dogs to degus; it turns out pets are playing important roles during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I know my dog has been happy to have her people around, so that’s one of the things we’re seeing,” says Kristen Aarbo, president of the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association and a veterinarian at the Big Rock Animal Clinic in Okotoks, Alta. 

Gwen the Labrador is on guard at Dr. Kirsten Aarbo’s home in Okotoks, Alta. (Kirsten Aarbo)

But Aarbo also tells Russell Bowers of CBC Radio’s Daybreak Alberta the more than 1,700 veterinarians across the province are also seeing other things such as cases of happy or limp tail, where a dog’s tail is actually strained from too much wagging.

She is also hearing reports of overuse injuries from too much walking or even depression as animals miss their routine. 

“Dogs that were usually going to social activities like doggie daycare or dog parks aren’t doing that,” Aarbo says.

Alberta veterinarians are also changing up the way they care for animals in the wake of the pandemic from offering more video and telemedicine, to curbside pickups. 

“The government decreed us an essential service and we’re trying to adapt to that and make sure we’re exposing as few people to each other as possible,” Aarbo says. 

So far, research showing the improbability of animals spreading the virus to other animals or people “seems very reassuring,” she says. 

Whether you’re Oilers captain Connor McDavid using his pooch Lenny as a weight to do squats or you’re just cuddling with the cat for companionship and comfort, the upsides are well documented.

“Pets are incredibly beneficial to mental health,” says Peter Silverstone, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Alberta.

“My kids would laugh if they heard me say that because we got a dog a year ago, after me having objected to one for 20 years, but I have become completely enamoured with this pet,” Silverstone admits.

The evidence also shows that if you have a pet, stroking it, interacting with it, being involved with it, does help your mental health. Whether you’re alone or part of a family,” he says.

Much loved Mila the morkie celebrates her first birthday recently in the Silverstone household. (Peter Silverstone)

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