Mental Health

New research finds that having a pet leads to better mental health during the lockdown

having a pet during lockdown

A new study shows having a pet acts as a buffer against psychological stress during the coronavirus lockdown.

The study consisted of 6,000 residents of the UK who have at least one pet. About 90% of them said their pet helped them emotionally cope with the lockdown. And 96% said their pet helped them stay fit and active during this period.

More than 40% of UK households are estimated to own at least one pet.

The strength of this link did not significantly differ between species. “The strength of the emotional bond with pets did not statistically differ by animal species,” said lead author Elena Ratschen of the University of York.

“People in our sample felt on average as emotionally close to, for example, their guinea pig as they felt to their dog,” she said.

The effects were stronger for people who had lower baseline scores for mental health-related outcomes.

Lockdown companions

“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 stress associated with lockdown,” said co-author Daniel Mills of the University of Lincoln said.

“However,” he added, “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.”

Indeed, 68% of this study’s respondents reported having been worried about their animals during lockdown. This was due, for example, to fears about restrictions on veterinary care, or because they didn’t know who would look after their pet if they fell ill.

The study also found that the most popular interaction with non-pet animals is birdwatching. Almost 55% of the people surveyed reported watching and feeding birds in their garden.

Having a pet vs a companion animal

Companion animals are animals that live in a human household and are subject to the humans’ control and care. The origin of this term is in the late middle English period, from the French compagnon “companion”. It was used to refer to animals kept as pets.

Companion animals include horses, cats, dogs, rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, monkeys, rodents, snakes, lizards, tarantulas, and birds. The most popular pets are dogs and cats, and to a lesser extent are rabbits and fish. Pets provide a variety of benefits to their owners and society in general.

In one sense, some important companion animals are those that are identified by their function, and other animals are simply “pets”, as opposed to working animals, or animals kept for food. Horses and working animals are generally considered outside the sphere of pet animals but, in practical terms, they are very similar since they are all creatures kept for companionship, as well as for practical purposes other than food.

Companion animals are becoming increasingly popular. By the end of 2010, there were more than 70 million companion animals in the United States, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

More science and psychology news:

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  • Politics plays an ever-greater role in how Americans define their social identity, and is now a bigger factor than religion.
  • On average, participants wished their conversations had been 1.9 minutes (or 24%) longer than they were.
  • A new study finds that almost one in five people lack a certain protein in their muscles, which gives them better resilience to the cold.

Study: Human-animal relationships and interactions during the Covid-19 lockdown phase in the UK: investigating links with mental health and loneliness
Authors: Elena Ratschen, Emily Shoesmith, Lion Shahab, Karine Silva, Dimitra Kale, Paul Toner, Catherine Reeve, Daniel S. Mills
Published in: PLOS ONE
Publication date: September 25, 2020
Photo: by Peng Louis from Pexels

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