Pets helped us feel less alone during lockdown, study shows

Petting the cat

Cat and dog owners feel that their pets had a positive effect on their wellbeing during the pandemic, researchers have found.

In a study by the University of the West of Scotland and the Waltham Petcare Science Institute, around 85% of dog owners and 75% of cat owners said their pets had an extremely or moderately positive effect on their wellbeing.

“Despite being physically isolated from friends, family or colleagues, having a pet meant never truly being alone,” said Heather Clements, Ph.D. student on the study from the University of the West of Scotland.

Dog relaxing in bed

Companion animals also benefited their owners by facilitating connections with other people as, even during the tightest restrictions, leaving the house was permitted for reasons related to animal welfare, such as to walk dogs. This often led to brief, socially distanced interactions that owners said they appreciated during periods of isolation.

Correspondingly, walking dogs for less time than average each day was associated with higher loneliness — indicating that possibly those who spent less time walking their dogs had fewer opportunities for these brief social encounters.

Keeping up with daily routines was seen as another benefit of having pets during lockdown, and many participants indicated their pets provided a source of positive distraction.

“Companion animals not only helped to take their guardians’ minds off negative thoughts associated with the pandemic, but also provided a much-needed source of purpose,” Clements added.

There is still much to learn about the positive effects of human-animal interaction, said Darren Logan, Ph.D., head of research at the Waltham Petcare Science Institute.

“Identifying the specific aspects of keeping companion animals that were beneficial during the pandemic will allow researchers to develop and test more theories regarding the impact of the human-animal bond for people and animals alike,” Logan explained.

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