Sharing a home with a pet appeared to act as a buffer against psychological stress during lockdown, a new survey from the UK shows.
Most people who took part in the research perceived their pets to be a source of considerable support during the lockdown period (23 March – 1 June 2020).
The study—from the University of York and the University of Lincoln in England and published in PLOS ONE—found that having a pet was linked to maintaining better mental health and reducing loneliness. Around 90 per cent of the 6000 participants who were from the UK had at least one pet. The strength of the human-animal bond did not differ significantly between species with the most common pets being cats and dogs followed by small mammals and fish.
More than 90 per cent of respondents said their pet helped them cope emotionally with the lockdown and 96 per cent said their pet helped keep them fit and active.
However, 68 per cent of pet owners reported having been worried about their animals during lockdown, for example due to restricted access to veterinary care and exercise.
“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,” lead author Dr Elena Ratschen said.
“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.
“It will be important to ensure that pet owners are appropriately supported in caring for their pet during the pandemic,” Dr Ratschen added.