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Is It Puppy Love? RVC Needs Families in the North West For An Investigation Into Impact Of Pet Dogs On Children's Mental Health During Pandemic

THE Royal Veterinary College (RVC) has launched a new study:- 'Pandemic Pals,' to explore how the ownership of dogs during the Covid19 Pandemic impacted the mental health and wellbeing of children. This study explores relationships between dogs and their owners; focussing on children's unique experiences and challenges during the Pandemic. It is hoped that this research will support organisations to provide better support for households with children and dogs across the UK.

Previously, the RVC's:- 'Pandemic Puppies' research series looked at owners' puppy buying behaviours and the impact of the Pandemic on dogs. This new study will examine the impact of these puppies on the mental wellbeing of families who currently have children aged between:- 8 and 17 years, living in their household.

This new research, funded by the Society of Companion Animal Studies, involves online surveys:- an adult specific survey and (depending on the number of children within the house) a child-specific survey.

The research team, led by Dr Rowena Packer, Lecturer in Companion Animal Behaviour and Welfare Science at the RVC, is calling on more families from the North West to participate, by the deadline of:- 9 May 2023.

Eligible families must be UK residents and have bought a dog of any breed or crossbreed, aged under 16 weeks, between:- 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2021. Eligible dogs must have been bought from a private seller (as opposed to being rescue dogs). Dog owners must also be the parent / caregiver of a child / children aged between:- 8 to 17 years inclusive.

Dr Rowena Packer, Lecturer in Companion Animal Behaviour and Welfare Science at the RVC, said:- "Over the past 3 years, the RVC Pandemic Puppies Research Programme has revealed a complex network of impacts of the Covid19 Pandemic upon both how and why puppies are acquired in the UK, and their early lives with their owners. Within this, the deeply recognisable human story of a desire to improve mental health via the companionship of dogs has endured, particularly for those households concerned by the impact of the Pandemic upon their children. With generous funding from the Society for Companion Animal Studies, we are excited to expand our body of work to explore the important relationships between children and dogs in households during the Pandemic, including the highs and lows of these relationships, and whether expectations were met by reality. We strongly encourage households who acquired a puppy from January 2019 onwards to get involved in this vital study."

Dr Claire Brand, Research Technician in Canine Welfare Science at the RVC, said:- "There is strong evidence that the Covid19 Pandemic had a negative impact on the mental health of children in the UK, as a result of social restrictions imposed during 2020 and 2021 to restrict the spread of the virus. Our previous research highlighted that many puppy acquisitions during this time were driven by the hope of this new family member supporting household mental health, including that of children, during this challenging period. We are motivated to understand if and how dogs, both newly acquired puppies during the Pandemic, and those already living in the household during this time, impacted the wellbeing of children during the Pandemic. We invite anyone from the UK who brought home a puppy home under the age of 16 weeks between January 2019-December 2021 and who has children currently aged 8-17 years in their household to take part in this novel and important study."

For those interested in participating, please visit:- RVC.UK.Com.


Stress Awareness month: Experts share tips on reducing stress levels

APRIL marked Stress Awareness Month in the UK, which since 1992 has sought to raise awareness of the causes and dangers of stress. Stress is the body's reaction to pressure or feeling threatened. It is very common and can help people to work hard and achieve their goals. However, too much stress can have a negative impact on your physical, emotional and mental health.  As the awareness month comes to an end, the learning experts at online training provider High Speed Training have shared some tips to help identify and effectively manage stress at home.

Stress is a normal part of life, and everyone will experience it at some point. There are many causes of stress and they will be different for everyone. Some common sources of stress include:-

  • Feeling under lots of pressure.

  • Facing big changes in your life.

  • Being worried about something or someone.

  • Not having control over the outcome of a situation.

  • Having overwhelming responsibilities.

  • Not having enough work or having too much work.

  • Experiencing discrimination, hate or abuse.

  • Going through a period of uncertainty.

Dr Richard Anderson, Head of Learning and Development, at High Speed Training, said:- "Stress management involves recognising when you are stressed and responding appropriately. This is crucial as preventing and managing long term stress can lower your risk for other conditions such as heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure and depression. There are many sources of stress in our everyday lives. For many, stressful situations occur in the workplace or due to our jobs. All employers must ensure the health and safety of their employees, including:- minimising the risk of stress-related illness, so if you are experiencing stress at work, you should try and speak to your employer."

There are many symptoms of stress, from feeling anxious and angry to physical manifestations, such as headaches, difficulty breathing and muscle aches.

When you're stressed, your muscles can contract and become tense, leading to neck pain, headaches, back ache and cramps. Physically relaxing your muscles can help to alleviate these feelings.

Trying to control your breathing can also help. Try taking a deep breath through your nose, holding it for:- 5 to 6 seconds, and breathing out through your mouth. Repeating this 3 times can help increase the amount of oxygen to your brain and reduce your heart rate.

Take Some Time and focus on rest...

Taking some time out of your daily routine is essential if you are going to relax your mind and body fully. Activities such as reading, walking, doing a hobby or spending time with friends can all help alleviate stress and allow you to focus on a positive activity.

Sleep is also essential to our wellbeing so you should aim to get a full night's sleep every night. Most people need around:- 7 to 8 hours' sleep a night, though some people can manage on 6 hours' sleep.

To get a better night's sleep, try going to bed and getting up at similar times each day to stabilise your body clock, and try to complete a relaxing activity before you go to sleep. It's also important to ensure your bedroom is sufficiently dark and quiet, and if possible, avoid using electronic devices in bed.

Eat Healthily...

Dr Anderson said:- "Without a balanced diet your body may be more susceptible to stress related illnesses, so it is vital that you continue to eat healthily when you are feeling stressed. Always eat breakfast and keep hydrated throughout the day to stop yourself running out of energy and feeling tired. Eating foods from the 5 key food groups at every meal, consisting of a large amount of fruit, vegetables and starchy foods, a moderate amount of protein and dairy and a small amount of fats and sugars, will help to keep you happy and healthy. Try to cut out as many saturated, high-calorie foods as possible, such as pies, pastry, cakes, biscuits and crisps, as these can make you feel sluggish and will be detrimental to your mood."

Get moving...

Exercise is a great way to prevent stress and anxiety and a good way to release tension. Whichever fitness activity you choose to do, even if it's just for 20 minutes a day, it will help to decrease blood pressure and lower your heart rate - 2 of the worst physical symptoms of stress.

When you exercise, endorphins are released in your body (as opposed to the adrenaline and cortisol released when you are stressed) which help to produce feelings of well being and calmness.

Dr Anderson continues:- "Everyone will experience stress at some point in their lives. It's clear that long term or prolonged periods of stress can have a negative impact on your physical and mental health. Identifying the causes of your stress and regularly engaging in stress management activities will help you to respond effectively."

For more information on managing stress, and for lots more practical advice, please visit the High Speed Training Hub.

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