- New Publications Highlight Impact of Companion Animals on Loneliness During the Pandemic
- About HABRI
- About Mars Petcare
- Pets and mental health
- How can a pet help my mental health?
- How can I choose the right pet for me?
- What if I can’t have a pet?
- The Friend Who Keeps You Young
- Reduce stress
- Lower blood pressure
- Increase physical activity
- Boost heart health
- Ease loneliness and depression
- Help specific health concerns
New Publications Highlight Impact of Companion Animals on Loneliness During the Pandemic
(October 6, 2021) — The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) and Mars Petcare, with support from a broad Consortium of partners, today announced the publication of three papers in the open-access Journal Animals, part of a special issue focused on the role of companion animals during the COVID-19 pandemic, Social Isolation and the Roles That Animals Play in Supporting the Lives of Humans: Lessons for COVID19. The papers focus on the role of human-animal interaction (HAI) in helping to alleviate loneliness and social isolation during the pandemic. These papers were authored by working group members of the Consortium on Social Isolation and Companion Animals, established by HABRI and Mars Petcare in 2018.
“These publications represent a critical aspect of our Consortium effort to explore the potential of companion animals to help address the epidemic of loneliness and social isolation, which has only grown more pressing since the pandemic began,” said Steven Feldman, president of HABRI. “As these papers highlight, the human-animal bond has served as a key source of emotional and social support for so many over the last year-and-a-half, underscoring the importance of future research investigating this impact.”
“Social isolation and loneliness are immense societal challenges, affecting people in many ways, which require different interventions and treatment approaches,” said Rena Crumplen, Global Vice-President of Research and Development, Mars Petcare.
“These publications represent an important scientific milestone in bridging research and practice – helping bring evidence-based solutions to those affected by social isolation and making the case for multidisciplinary efforts to further the field of HAI more broadly.”
The paper led by Dr. Dawn Carr, Department of Sociology, Florida State University analyzed longitudinal survey data obtained from a Florida community-based sample of adults aged 60+ in September 2018 and October 2020.
Researchers set out to test the association between social consequences of COVID-19 and changes in loneliness and the buffering effect of dog walking on this relationship.
Results indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with related increases in loneliness, and that walking a dog daily buffered this relationship, suggesting a potential therapeutic effect of dog walking for promoting mental health in older adults, particularly in the context of stressful situations that accentuate risks for loneliness.
A commentary led by Dr.
Angela Hughes, DVM, PhD, Global Science Advocacy Senior Manager, Mars Petcare, focused on the impact of the HABRI-Mars Petcare Consortium on Social Isolation and Companion Animals, and how this collaboration has yielded actionable insights and research projects, serving as a model for future cross-disciplinary thinking to elevate HAI for the mutual benefit of people, companion animals and communities.
Zenithson Ng, DVM, MS, Dipl ABVP, of the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, led a paper focused on discussing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the ways in which people interact with different types of companion animals, including owned pets, therapy animals and service dogs, and provides solution-focused suggestions for sharing the power of the human-animal bond during a time in which physical connections are limited, but when the world needs social connection the most.
“Being a part of the Consortium working groups over the last three years has opened up new avenues for collaboration with researchers and experts from various backgrounds that all care about loneliness and social isolation as a public health crisis and believe in the potential of companion animals to make a positive impact,” said Dr. Dawn Carr, Associate Professor, Florida State University. “Our publication in Animals is one example of how working together can produce new, valuable insights and advance research in this area.”
The Consortium on Social Isolation and Companion Animals is a multidisciplinary effort led by HABRI in partnership with Mars Petcare to explore the potential of companion animals to provide effective relief and to serve as a complementary treatment for social isolation, loneliness and related health outcomes.
In May 2019, HABRI and Mars co-hosted the first-ever Summit on Social Isolation and Companion Animals in Washington, DC.
The Summit engaged experts and stakeholders in advancing scientific research, sharing best practices, and overcoming societal barriers to facilitate the vital role of companion animals and human-animal interaction (HAI) in addressing the crisis of social isolation and loneliness.
In 2020, HABRI and Mars Petcare released a report, Addressing the Social Isolation and Loneliness Epidemic with the Power of Companion Animals, which brought forward the recommendations from the Summit. The Consortium effort has also resulted in working groups made up of a wide array of experts in human-animal interaction, mental health, healthy aging, and more.
Continued engagement by the Consortium on Social Isolation and Companion Animals’ working groups in coming years will be aimed at developing further events, publications, and resources to make HAI more accessible and effective for people suffering from social isolation and loneliness and who might derive the most benefit, while advancing the welfare of companion animals.
Carr, D., Friedmann, E., Gee, N. R., Gilchrist, C., Sachs-Ericsson, N., & Koodaly, L. (2021). Dog Walking and the Social Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Loneliness in Older Adults. Animals, 11(7), 1852.
Hughes, A. M., Braun, L., Putnam, A., Martinez, D., & Fine, A. (2021). Advancing Human–Animal Interaction to Counter Social Isolation and Loneliness in the Time of COVID-19: A Model for an Interdisciplinary Public Health Consortium. Animals, 11(8), 2325.
Ng, Z.; Griffin, T.C.; Braun, L. The New Status Quo: Enhancing Access to Human–Animal Interactions to Alleviate Social Isolation & Loneliness in the Time of COVID-19. Animals 2021, 11, 2769.
HABRI is a not-for-profit organization that maintains the world’s largest online library of human-animal bond research and information; funds innovative research projects to scientifically document the health benefits of companion animals; and informs the public about human-animal bond research and the beneficial role of companion animals in society. For more information, please visit https://www.habri.org/.
About Mars Petcare
Part of Mars, Incorporated, a family-owned business with more than a century of history making diverse products and offering services for people and the pets people love, the almost 100,000 Associates across 130 countries in Mars Petcare are dedicated to one purpose: A BETTER WORLD FOR PETS.
With 85 years of experience, our portfolio of almost 50 brands serves the health and nutrition needs of the world’s pets – including brands PEDIGREE®, WHISKAS®, ROYALCANIN®,NUTRO™, GREENIES™, SHEBA®, CESAR®, IAMS™ and EUKANUBA™ as well as the WALTHAM Petcare Science Institute which has advanced research in the nutrition and health of pets for over 50 years. Mars Petcare is also a leading veterinary health provider through an international network of over 2,000 pet hospitals and diagnostic services including BANFIELD™, BLUEPEARL™,VCA™, Linnaeus, AniCura and Antech. We’re also active in innovation and technology for pets, with WISDOM PANEL™ genetic health screening and DNA testing for dogs, the WHISTLE™ GPS dog tracker, and LEAP VENTURE STUDIO accelerator and COMPANION FUND™ programs that drive innovation and disruption in the pet care industry. As a family business and guided by our principles, we are privileged with the flexibility to fight for what we believe in – and we choose to fight for our Purpose: A BETTER WORLD FOR PETS.
Pets and mental health
The companionship that a pet offers is a great way to reduce anxiety and stress.
*Last updated 18 May 2021
A pet can be a great source of comfort and motivation. In many ways, pets can help us to live mentally healthier lives.
How can a pet help my mental health?
Caring for a pet can help our mental health in many ways, including:
- increasing your physical activity. Dog owners are ly to take their pet out every day for a walk or run. This can be a fun way to fit exercise into your routine
- providing companionship. Pets can give you a sense of security and someone to share the day with. Caring for them can help you feel wanted and needed. This can be especially valuable for older people or those who live alone
- reducing anxiety. The companionship of a pet can help to ease your anxiety
- boosting self-confidence. Pets can be great listeners, offer unconditional love and won’t criticise you. This can help your self-confidence, especially if you feel isolated or misunderstood
- helping you meet new people. Dog owners often stop and chat to each other on walks. But other pets can be a way to meet people too: in pet shops, training classes or online groups, for example
- adding structure to your day. Having to feed, exercise and care for a pet can help you keep to a daily routine, which can help you feel more grounded and focused. It can give your day purpose and a sense of achievement.
Pets may also help with specific conditions. For example, people with ADHD may benefit from the structure and routine that a pet needs.
Managing their pet’s responsibilities and keeping track of time – to feed or walk them on time, for example – may help them in other areas of their lives.
Some people with ADHD are hyperactive – especially children — and playing with a pet can be a great way to release excess energy, whether that’s walking a dog or running around with a kitten.
Autistic people can benefit from having a pet. Pets provide the kind of unconditional relationship that can help someone build social skills and confidence.
They can provide a sense of calm and reassurance if their owner feels overwhelmed.
Autistic children with sensory issues can involve their pet in sensory integration activities to help them get used to how something feels against their skin or how it smells or sounds.
How can I choose the right pet for me?
You may have a strong idea of the pet you want – perhaps because you grew up with that animal – or you might not be so sure. When you’re deciding, consider:
- how much outdoor space you have
- how active you are
- how much time you have to spend with your pet
- how much money you have for vet’s bills, insurance, food, toys, etc. There are charities that offer low-cost vet care, but they are limited to certain areas and have financial criteria.
Animal charity PDSA has an online quiz you can take to help you choose the right pet.
What if I can’t have a pet?
If you can’t afford a pet, live somewhere you’re not allowed one, or you’re worried about having times where you’re too unwell to care for a pet, there are other options.
The simplest option may be spending time with friends’ pets, whether that’s walking their dogs, stroking their cats or cuddling their guinea pigs. They might be glad to have someone to pet sit for them while they’re on holiday.
If you’re missing having a dog in your life, you could sign up with Borrow My Doggy. They connect dog owners to local people who would love to walk or play with a dog.
The Cinnamon Trust also needs volunteer dog walkers to help out older people or those with a health condition or disability that means they can’t walk their dog as easily anymore.
They also need people to foster pets while their owners are in hospital.
Contact a rescue centre near you to see what volunteering opportunities they may have. They may need volunteers to exercise, care for and socialise their pets. You could consider fostering an animal if you’re able to have a pet on a short-term basis but can’t commit to one long-term. Some shy or scared animals need the peace and quiet of a home while waiting to be adopted.
Cats Protection and Dogs Trust both need people to provide temporary foster care for pets belonging to people fleeing domestic violence, who may not be able to take their pets into a refuge with them.
The Friend Who Keeps You Young
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Adopting a pet may seem a selfless act, but there are plenty ofselfish reasons to embrace pet ownership. Research has shown that owning apet provides an amazing array of health benefits, says Jeremy Barron, M.D.,medical director of the Beacham Center for Geriatric Medicine at JohnsHopkins.
Not ready for a full-time furry friend in your home? Offer to walk a neighbor’s dog, cat-sit for a friend, or donate time at a local animal shelter—even short interactions provide enough pet exposure to reap some of these rewards.
Research has shown that simply petting a dog lowers the stress hormone cortisol , while the social interaction between people and their dogs actually increases levels of the feel-good hormone oxytocin (the same hormone that bonds mothers to babies).
In fact, an astonishing 84 percent of post-traumatic stress disorder patients paired with a service dog reported a significant reduction in symptoms, and 40 percent were able to decrease their medications, reported a recent survey.
Lower blood pressure
The cortisol-lowering and oxytocin-boosting benefits of petting also help keep your blood pressure at bay. “Petting and holding an animal allows you to appreciate the beauty of nature,” explains Barron. “It’s relaxing and transcendental.”
Increase physical activity
How many people are willing to go outside at the crack of dawn and exercise in the rain or snow? Dog owners often have no choice—they have to walk their pet, thus providing them with an excuse-proof daily dose of exercise.
Boost heart health
The American Heart Association released a research report endorsing dog ownership as a way of warding off cardiovascular disease .
Ease loneliness and depression
A 2011 study found that pet owners had better self-esteem. Another study determined that pets provided greater social support than humans in mitigating depression. “Caring for a pet provides a sense of purpose to the owner,” says Barron. Plus, pets are a good social catalyst for meeting people who share your animal interests.
Help specific health concerns
Beyond simple companionship, dogs have long been wonderful helpers to those without sight or with mobility issues. Dogs are even being used to help detect conditions from seizures to cancer.
Cardiovascular (car-dee-oh-vas-cue-ler) disease: Problems of the heart or blood vessels, often caused by atherosclerosis—the build-up of fat deposits in artery walls—and by high blood pressure, which can weaken blood vessels, encourage atherosclerosis and make arteries stiff. Heart valve disorders, heart failure and off-beat heart rhythms (called arrhythmias) are also types of cardiovascular disease.
Cortisol (kor-tuh-sol): A hormone produced by the adrenal glands on top of the kidneys and involved in the stress response. It rises in the mornings, inducing wakefulness and also rises during stress. Sleep deprivation, caffeine and alcohol can also raise cortisol levels. Chronically high levels have been linked with low immunity, weight gain and other health problems.
Oxytocin (ok-si-toh-suhn): In men, a hormone released from the pituitary gland that aids penile erection and ejaculation.
In women, it stimulates milk production and the uterus to contract. It influences social bonding, which is why it also is sometimes referred to as a bonding or love hormone.
As a medicine, oxytocin is sometimes given to pregnant women to induce or speed labor.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): A disorder in which your “fight or flight,” or stress, response stays switched on, even when you have nothing to flee or battle.
The disorder usually develops after an emotional or physical trauma, such as a mugging, physical abuse or a natural disaster.
Symptoms include nightmares, insomnia, angry outbursts, emotional numbness, and physical and emotional tension.
Social support: The help you receive from others in your life. Family, friends, peers and other people who care about you and for you make up your social support system or network.
While dogs give you the most benefits of any other pet, they also requiremore time and financial commitment.
Dogs cost an average of $227 per yearin vet bills, and the larger the dog, the more you will have to spend onfood (not to mention more time spent exercising the dog).
If you havemobility issues, also keep your fall risk in mind when deciding the sizeand type of dog you bring into your home.