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Pets could help boost mental health and reduce loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic

Researchers found that pets can increase consumers’ overall well-being while at home

Photo (c) Alena Ozerova - Fotolia
Anxiety and stress have been at an all-time high since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and recent studies have tried to identify ways that consumers can maintain better mental health during these uncertain times. 

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of York found that pets could be a great means of boosting consumers’ mental health while reducing feelings of loneliness during the pandemic. 

“This work is particularly important at the current time as it indicates how having a companion animal in your home can buffer against some of the psychological stresses associated with lockdown,” said researcher Daniel Mills. “However, it is important that everyone appreciates their pet’s needs too, as our other work shows failing to meet these can have a detrimental effect for both people and their pets.” 

Benefits of pets

The researchers surveyed 6,000 pet owners between April and June and had them report on their mental health, their typical interactions with their pet, and their overall well-being. 

The overwhelming majority of the participants felt emotionally connected to their pets and reported that having a companion at home with them during lockdown was crucial to feeling supported and less lonely. The study also revealed that any kind of pet benefited consumers’ mental health, as it wasn’t just dog or cat owners who felt that added connection. 

“We also discovered that in this study, the strength of the emotional bond with pets did not statistically differ by animal species, meaning that people in our sample felt on average as emotionally close to, for example, their guinea pig as they felt to their dog,” said researcher Dr. Elena Ratschen. 

The researchers explained that participants’ mental health before the pandemic impacted how much their pets helped them cope once quarantine began. They found that those who struggled with their mental health pre-pandemic were more likely to feel even closer to their pets when quarantine orders became official. 

“Findings from this study also demonstrated potential links between people’s mental health and the emotional bonds they form with their pets: measures of the strength of the human-animal bond were higher among people who reported lower scores for mental health-related outcomes at baseline,” Dr. Ratschen said. 

Though these findings are positive, and other studies have highlighted the mental health benefits associated with pet ownership, the researchers don’t recommend that consumers become pet owners as a quick fix for their mental health. 

“While our study showed that having a pet may mitigate some of the detrimental psychological effects of the COVID-19 lockdown, it is important to understand that this finding is unlikely to be of clinical significance and does not warrant any suggestion that people should acquire pets to protect their mental health during the pandemic,” said Dr. Ratschen. 

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