How Pets Have Helped Us Through the Pandemic

BIDMC Contributor

FEBRUARY 04, 2021

A senior man is sitting with his dog on the couch.As the coronavirus pandemic forced states to issue stay-at-home orders in March 2020, people across the country adopted millions of dogs. In return, they gained comfort, companionship and, in many cases, improved cardiovascular health.

Kate LeBlanc's family was among them. "My 13-year-old daughter Sophie had wanted a dog for years and last May, as the pandemic had left us with abundant time at home, my husband Joe and I thought the time might be ideal," says LeBlanc. "Neither of us had ever had a dog before, but our online rescue search soon turned up a five-year-old hound-collie mix named Kaiser. Adding Kaiser to our family has turned out to be very good for us in so many ways."

As LeBlanc notes, her health, in particular, has benefitted from canine companionship. "When my daughter's school closed, I thought the two of us would be taking walks together every day," she says. "Unfortunately, that rarely happened - until we got Kaiser. Now I really appreciate having this built-in exercise routine," she says of Kaiser's daily walks.

The LeBlancs' experience echoes that of recent research findings. In late 2019, two studies examined the relationship between dog ownership and heart health. They found that among 3.8 million study participants, those who were dog owners reported a 24 percent lower mortality rate compared with non-owners.

"Not only do dog owners tend to get more exercise and spend more time outside than non-dog-owners, but they also get the benefit of companionship, which has been shown to have a positive effect on mental health as well as helping to reduce stress levels and blood pressure," says Dhruv Kazi, MD, MSc, Assistant Director of the Smith Center for Outcomes Research in Cardiology and Director of the Cardiac Critical Care Unit at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "Dealing with the uncertainty and isolation of COVID-19 over the past year has been exceptionally challenging for everyone. It may be more important than ever for humans to have a loyal canine by their side."

Being first-time dog owners, the LeBlancs had to make adjustments and face some new challenges. But, they say it was worth it. "Kaiser has definitely been important to our family's mental health and well being, particularly for me as I struggled with anxiety that was intensified by the pandemic," says LeBlanc. "I pretty quickly felt a strong emotional bond with Kaiser, which I was not expecting since I didn't think I was a 'dog person'!"

It's no wonder that TIME Magazine named rescue animals the 2020 Pet of the Year.

Above content provided by the CardioVascular Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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