Pets help keep people's mental state healthy amid pandemic: DOH, advocates

Jasmin Romero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 12 2021 08:32 PM

People hold their pets before a blessing as part of a religious Catholic ceremony, during Saint Francis of Assisi festivities outside the San Francisco church, in Lima, Peru October 10, 2021. Angela Ponce, Reuters
People hold their pets before a blessing as part of a religious Catholic ceremony, during Saint Francis of Assisi festivities outside the San Francisco church, in Lima, Peru October 10, 2021. Angela Ponce, Reuters

MANILA - A pet can boost a person's mental health amid the COVID-19 pandemic which has raged on for nearly 2 years, the Department of Health and animal advocates said Tuesday.

According to the DOH, having a “human-to-animal bond” is a “multi-faceted approach to healing” to ensure a healthy mental condition.

“Panatilihin natin na nasa magandang kondisyon ang ating katawan, kaisipan habang hinaharap ang araw-araw na suliranin,” DOH director Beverly Ho said in a recorded message at a virtual forum.

According to studies cited by animal advocates Communitails, pet owners experience more health benefits compared to individuals without animals at home.

“Owners with pets can get lower resting blood pressure as compared to persons without pets,” said Hani Navarro of Communitails.

“Owners with pets decrease chances of obesity because they tend to exercise more because they tend to walk their dogs outside that promotes daily exercise."

Individuals with pets experience decreased depression and loneliness, and increase their sense of purpose and confidence. 

They also have more social interactions and rapport as compared to those without pets, Navarro said.

“When you bond with your pet, you actually increase the hormone called oxytocin which is our happy hormone."

Based on studies, children with autism benefit greatly from this, too.

“Children with autism who have pets (have) more physical interaction with other people and encourage more talking or looking into the faces of persons and promote laughing and smiling, as compared to children with autism without pets,” Navarro said.

The group also found out that students who experience depression or anxiety in school, as well as those with special needs, calm down when they play with a trained dog.

“Generally, they felt better after the session. They want to do it again,” said Mitz Gomez, also of Communitails.

Since the pandemic, Communitails encouraged pet owners to learn from their pets when taking care of their mental heath: by remembering the word "BARK", which stands for “Be Present”, “Aware”, “Recognize” feelings, and be “Kind”.

“Some of the principles of mindfulness, they teach us to be still and stay in the present moment and recognize how we feel even if this is a difficult emotion,” said Ginger Ramirez, also from the same group.

“Feel na feel natin 'pag kasama natin ang mga animals natin, at 'yun ang mga lessons na gusto nating matutunan,” she said.

Besides having pets, the DOH is reminding the public not to hesitate to call the National Center for Mental Health hotline 1553 if they need to talk to a mental health professional.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to stay at home as governments imposed lockdowns to arrest the spread of the virus.

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