Animal psychologyMental Health

Pets linked to better mental health and less loneliness during lockdown

pets and 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.

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
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0239397
Photo: by Peng Louis from Pexels

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