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(Credit: Zen Chung on pexels)

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Pets have long been recognized for their positive impact on mental health. Studies have shown that pets can provide emotional support, reduce stress levels, and increase feelings of social support and well-being. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans turned to pets for companionship and comfort as they navigated the challenges of isolation and uncertainty. Researchers at Purdue University set out to study how well pet owners fared compared to those who didn’t own pets. That study found that pet owners grew closer to their pets during the pandemic, but the relationship between pet ownership and mental health proved to be more complex.

“People felt closer toward their pets during the COVID-19 pandemic even though the pet ownership did not mitigate stress and loneliness. Dog ownership and cat ownership acted differently on mental health, but the difference between them could be partially explained away by the owner-pet relationship,” according to the researchers in a media release.

Among the 3,000 dog and cat owners surveyed, dog owners experienced a greater reduction of stress and loneliness compared to cat owners and participants without pets during the reopening and recovery periods. The study also revealed that cat owners generally had higher levels of stress and loneliness than other participants. The study found the difference in results between dog and cat owners could be partially explained by the owner-pet relationship. They suggest that dog owners may have a closer bond with their pets and feel more supported, which in turn can lead to a reduction in stress and loneliness.

Woman working from home with dog and cat
Working from home with pets during COVID-19. (Credit: Hsin-Yi Weng, CC-BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/))

The study also found that pet ownership could have a positive impact on certain types of loneliness, such as loneliness related to romantic relationships. This suggests that pets can provide a unique source of comfort and companionship, especially during periods of isolation.

The researchers plan to continue collecting data through 2023 to monitor changes in pet-owner relationships, stress, and loneliness.

The findings of this study underscore the importance of the human-animal bond and highlight the potential benefits of pet ownership for mental health. However, the complex relationship between pet ownership and mental health suggests that more research is necessary to fully understand the impact of pets on our well-being.

If you’re considering adding a pet to your family, it’s important to carefully consider your lifestyle and resources to ensure that you can provide a loving and safe home for your new companion. It’s also important to recognize that pet ownership requires a significant commitment of time, energy, and resources.

The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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