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Your Covid-19 questions answered

Can a support animal help me deal with anxiety brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic?

Kyle Zeeman Digital Editor
Support animals can help those struggling with anxiety.
Support animals can help those struggling with anxiety.
Image: 123RF/soloway

Emotional support animals continue to help alleviate panic attacks, anxiety and depression brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, with a study finding increased dependency on companion animals since 2020.

One study published recently in People and Animals: The International Journal of Research and Practice explored the relationship between companion or emotional support animals and humans during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Among its objectives was to observe whether caring for a pet was associated with a change in quality of life.

It found increased pet dependency during the pandemic as compared with pre-Covid times, and said it improved mental health.

“Given the added stress the global pandemic has inflicted (for example: isolation, job loss, health concerns, increased exposure to domestic violence), it is unsurprising that participants in the study indicated an increase in pet dependency.

“Animal companionship was found to be an important driver of better mental health during the pandemic in improving mood,” it said.

One thing it was not able to overcome was worry over caring for the animal and anxiety over its behaviour.

It called for further research on the topic.

“Given the unprecedented nature of the global pandemic that began in 2020, the findings of this study may be useful in supporting future research on animal companionship in contexts of extended environmental crisis, enhanced stress, and restricted social contact,” it added.

The Sunday Times reported in 2020 that the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) had received several enquires from people looking to register emotional support animals in SA, but said there was no national organisation that assists with accreditation.

“Sadag developed very basic guidelines on how to collect all the necessary documents and letters from vets and psychiatrists and immunisation cards to assist in the travel application for animals. However, Sadag does not run this project full-time, unfortunately, due to lack of capacity and funding,” spokesperson Kayla Phillips said.

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