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From serving as a walking companion to offering a warm, friendly greeting every time someone walks in the door, it's no secret that pets act as an instant mood booster. Given the emotional and mental stress that many are experiencing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, researchers wanted to examine the role that pets play in easing our anxiety. Researchers at the University of York and University of Lincoln surveyed pet owners from March 23 through June 1, 2020; according to their findings, more than 90 percent of the 6,000 respondents said their pet helped them cope emotionally with the lockdown and 96 percent said their pet helped keep them fit and active.
"This work is particularly important in 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. However, 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," says co-author Professor Daniel Mills from the University of Lincoln.
The most common pets people owned were cats and dogs, followed by small mammals and fish; however, the type of pet did not impact the degree of mental health benefits that owners experienced. "Findings from this study 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," said lead author Dr. Elena Ratschen from the Department of Health Sciences University of York. Researchers also found that those who did not own a pet reaped similar benefits by actively birdwatching or feeding birds in their gardens. Doctors have long touted the health benefits of spending time in the great outdoors where birds are naturally quite active.
While there has certainly been a rise in new pet ownership during the pandemic (there's even been a shortage in "pandemic puppies"), researchers say that their findings don't mean that individuals should rush to adopt a new pet. "While our study showed that having a pet may mitigate some of the detrimental psychological effects of the COVID-19 lockdown, it is important to understand that this finding is unlikely to be of clinical significance and does not warrant any suggestion that people should acquire pets to protect their mental health during the pandemic," says Dr. Ratschen.
If you're experiencing significant emotional stress during the pandemic, talk to a doctor or therapist to receive help.