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Pets, touch, and COVID-19: health benefits from non-human touch through times of stress


  • Janette Young

    (Allied Health and Human Performance, University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia)

  • Rhianna Pritchard

    (Allied Health and Human Performance, University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia)

  • Carmel Nottle

    (Allied Health and Human Performance, University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia)

  • Helen Banwell

    (Allied Health and Human Performance, University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia)


During times of social isolation, such as the global COVID-19 pandemic, the social distancing mantras that have been integral to COVID-19 responses position close human-to-human contact, including physical touch, as life threatening. Touch is commonly an overlooked sense, yet studies have shown that touch deprivation reduces survival rates of pre-term babies and contributes to stunted mental and emotional development in institutionalized orphaned humans. For people who experience less social contact, touch deprivation may impact on quality of life. This article explores the notion that human to non-human contact, such as that between animal guardians and their pets, may assist in promoting health and wellbeing when human contact is limited. Use is made of a qualitative research project interviewing people on the role of their pets in creating health. 90% of participants (n = 29/32) identified touch as core to this intersection. Inductive touch themes identified include comfort, relaxation and reciprocity, pointing to the impacts but also the mechanisms by which cross-species touch can create human wellbeing – a relational resource that may counter COVID-19 touch deprivation engendered by prohibition of human-human contact. With over half of the world's population having pets, these relationships may be one of our greatest health-promoting resources at this time.

Suggested Citation

  • Janette Young & Rhianna Pritchard & Carmel Nottle & Helen Banwell, 2020. "Pets, touch, and COVID-19: health benefits from non-human touch through times of stress," Journal of Behavioral Economics for Policy, Society for the Advancement of Behavioral Economics (SABE), vol. 4(S2), pages 25-33, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:beh:jbepv1:v:4:y:2020:i:s2:p:25-33

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Caroline Bradbury‐Jones & Louise Isham, 2020. "The pandemic paradox: The consequences of COVID‐19 on domestic violence," Journal of Clinical Nursing, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 29(13-14), pages 2047-2049, July.
    2. Julianne Holt-Lunstad & Timothy B Smith & J Bradley Layton, 2010. "Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review," PLOS Medicine, Public Library of Science, vol. 7(7), pages 1-1, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. Lupton, Deborah & Lewis, Sophie, 2022. "Sociomaterialities of health, risk and care during COVID-19: Experiences of Australians living with a medical condition," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 293(C).
    2. Michelle Baddeley, 2020. "COVID-19 2020: A year of living dangerously," Journal of Behavioral Economics for Policy, Society for the Advancement of Behavioral Economics (SABE), vol. 4(S3), pages 5-9, December.

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    More about this item


    touch; pets; companion animals; COVID-19; health;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • H51 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Government Expenditures and Health
    • I1 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health
    • I3 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty


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