Dog owners likely to report better emotional health during Covid-19 pandemic, study shows

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  • Owning a pet helped many people cope better during the Covid-19 pandemic. 
  • According to a new study, people who have dogs are less likely to have depressive symptoms.
  • Dog ownership also provided people with a strong sense of social support.

The benefits of owning a pet have always been clear, and these advantages have come to the forefront once again during the Covid-19 pandemic, where especially dogs are helping people cope with the stress and anxiety associated with the virus, subsequent lockdowns, and isolation.

For some, the pandemic has led to a yearning for a furry companion. And according to a new study, the reason isn't hard to find.

The research, which mainly looked at dogs and how they impact the mental health of their owners, suggested that having "man’s best friend" around resulted in fewer depressive symptoms and better social support during the pandemic – compared with the control group who did not own dogs.

The findings were reported in the journal PLOS One

According to the authors, major life events, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, can affect a person’s psychological and physiological health, but social support can mitigate these effects.

They wrote: “Dog owners reported having significantly more social support available to them compared to potential dog owners, and their depression scores were also lower, compared to potential dog owners [control group].”

No significant differences in anxiety and happiness scores between the two groups were noted, but the researchers, from Nestlé Purina Research in Saint-Louis, Missouri, said that dog owners had a significantly more positive attitude towards and commitment to pets than the control group. 

Social support among dog owners

For the study, the researchers asked 768 pet dog owners and 767 potential pet dog owners (people who were interested in owning a dog in the future) to complete an online survey.

The surveys included psychometric scales that validate depression, anxiety, and happiness, as well as attitude to and a commitment towards pets, and perceived social support.

Social support, which can counter psychological and physiological negative effects that come with significant life events, were defined in the study as:

  • The feeling of being cared for
  • The knowledge of being loved, esteemed, and valued
  • The sense of belonging to a supportive network

Analysing the results

When weighing all the scores, the researchers found that dog owners reported having significantly more social support when compared with the control group.

Not only does the current study show that owning a dog may help safeguard pet owners from negative psychological impacts associated with the pandemic, but they also add to existing scientific evidence that these companions provide positive support to their owners during hard times.

They wrote: “Taken together, our results suggest that dog ownership may have provided people with a stronger sense of social support, which in turn may have helped buffer some of the negative psychological impacts caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Limitations

The researchers pointed out some limitations, including that information was self-reported, although they added that psychometric tools have been widely and successfully used by many other researchers.

The authors concluded:

Our results show that pet dog owners were significantly less depressed than non-pet owners during the Covid-19 pandemic

They added: “Our work adds to the corpus of scientific literature demonstrating that pet dogs may positively contribute to the wellbeing of owners during difficult times. However, more work is needed to better understand the relationship between pet ownership and social support as modulators of owner wellbeing.”

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READ | Pets and the pandemic: 'On the tough days, they lifted my spirits and gave me a reason to smile'

READ | Pets and the pandemic: 'There were really dark days, but my boys helped me cope'

READ | Pets and the pandemic: What science tells us

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