People with pets have “greater psychological resilience”, study reveals

People who share a home with a pet experience less psychological stress and are less likely to report mental health symptoms than those without a pet, a major study has revealed.

The research, published by the University of York, is among the first to analyse the impact a family pet could have on the wellbeing and togetherness of a household during the coronavirus lockdown.

To carry out the investigation, the authors surveyed some 6,000 people categorised as either having no pet or at least one pet, such as a cat, dog, fish, rabbit and/or guinea pig.

It was found that nine in 10 (90 per cent) respondents believe that their pet had helped them cope emotionally throughout the coronavirus lockdown. Around 96 per cent, meanwhile, said their pet had helped keep them fit and active.

What’s more, it was discovered that the “wellbeing effect” did not differ significantly between species of pet, be that a cat, dog or even a fish.

Commenting on the results, Lead author Dr Elena Ratschen, from the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York, said the emotional bond between owner and animal has the power to promote mental wellbeing and improve emotional resilience.

“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,” she said.

Co-author Professor Daniel Mills, from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, added: “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.

“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.”

The latest figures suggest that around one in four people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year, with the most common illnesses being anxiety and depression.

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