PETS have the ability to help their owners de-stress and ease their tension, especially when they spend long hours at home during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Columbia Asia Hospital Iskandar Puteri general manager Dr Ding Eng Li said the companionship offered by pets could help to lessen mental health issues such as depression, anxiety disorders and pandemic fatigue.
“Pets like cats and dogs are very loving and respond to the owner’s gestures through their unique actions.
“Having a pet at home can help reduce people’s stress levels and provide a healthy distraction while they are cooped up indoors,” she told StarMetro.Apart from spending time with pets, the medical doctor advised the public to limit their gadget screentime and try activities such as gardening, reading and exercising to de-stress.
“Working out in the house compound allows them to get some fresh air too.
“There are free online workout classes for people to try, from beginner level to more challenging ones like high-intensity interval training,” she said.
Meanwhile, Australia-certified dog trainer Leow Kee Wee said the interaction between a pet owner and their pet was considered a form of animal-assisted therapy, where the action helped them cope with certain health conditions such as stress and anxiety.
“We have seen many news reports on how the pandemic and current events, coupled with the lack of social activities, have left people with high levels of stress.
“This is where pets are able to play an effective role because studies have shown that interactions with pets produce endorphins in humans to relieve stress and pain while forging a stronger bond at the same time,” he said.
Leow, who is also the operations director at a popular pet chain store in Johor, said there was an increase in the purchase of pets when the second movement control order (MCO) was put in place last year.
He said more than 20 dogs and 10 cats were sold each month.
He believed this was because the public already had a taste of isolation brought on by the first MCO, hence the decision to get a pet to keep them company at home.
The increased demand for pets was not only happening locally but also in Singapore, where dogs that were usually sold at about S$3,000 (RM9,374) each went up to about S$7,000 (RM21,872) during the pandemic, said Leow.
The pandemic was also a good time for those keen to keep a pet as they were spending more time at home than before, he opined.
“The time spent together is especially crucial in the first two to three months, which is considered a ‘break in’ period to let the humans and pet get to know each other, and for the animal to get accustomed to its new surroundings.
“With more time at home, the owner is able to teach the animal to stick to a schedule for meals and needs management through repetitive actions.
“Pet owners who take in a pet during the pandemic are less likely to abandon the animals as the long hours spent together will have helped establish a stronger emotional attachment between them,” he noted.
He also noticed that people were more willing to spend on their pets these days as there was not much else to do and nowhere to go.
“There was an increase in the average sales at our stores from about RM60 previously to RM72 and above since last year,” he revealed.
“Before entering Phase One of the National Recovery Plan (NRP) in late June, pet shops were allowed to perform grooming services and we saw more people sending their pets for full grooming compared to the basic package choice popular in the pre-pandemic days.
“I think this is because they wanted to avoid leaving their house frequently so they opted for the full service, which includes fur trimming, nail cutting and ear cleaning.
“Though our grooming section remains closed, we still receive enquiries from customers who are eager to send their pets for a spa session,” he said.
He hoped that the government would allow pet grooming services to resume soon because pet shops had the relevant grooming equipment to deal with tangled fur and fungal or yeast infections.
Leow reminded pet owners to also care for their pets’ well-being as they, like humans, had emotions and experienced anxiety as well.
“Pets, especially larger dogs like German shepherds and Golden Retrievers besides Jack Russells, tend to have a lot of high energy that needs to be released through walks and play time, which allow them to get some fresh air too.
“It is also important to reinforce their animal instincts with easy tricks such as hiding their favourite treats in different places for them to find, so they can put their sense of smell to good use,” he advised.