The beneficial role of companion animals during coronavirus lockdown

You would expect that the presence of companion animals in a household during the coronavirus lockdown would be beneficial to their human guardians and a survey confirms this. The study is called: Human-animal relationships and interactions during the Covid-19 lockdown phase in the UK: Investigating links with mental health and loneliness and it is published on Plos One.

Animal ownership seemed to mitigate some of the detrimental psychological effects of Covid-19 lockdown – Elena Ratschen, lead researcher in the study referred to.

Translation of the quote above: living with a companion animal makes people feel better during the trying times of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown and social isolation. This is to be expected.

The survey was carried out by the universities of York and Lincoln. Questionnaires were sent out to 6,007 eligible participants who consented to take part in the study. 81 of these answered the first two questions of the questionnaire and nothing else and therefore they were removed from the study. In all, therefore, 5,926 participants completed the questionnaire in full without missing any questions. A large majority were companion animal guardians (89.8%, 5323 participants). Of these, 246 or 4.6% had a adopted companion animal during the Covid-19 pandemic. Comment: it is widely reported that there was an increase in adoptions of mainly dogs during the lockdown. These were also mainly puppies and it created a problem with scammers jumping on board selling poorly bred puppies at inflated prices for popular breeds such as the French Bulldog.

Loving a cat. Photo in public domain.

Companionship

Companionship. Picture in public domain

Of course, the questionnaire asked about companionship. Participants were asked whether there companion animal help them cope emotionally with the Covid-19 situation. Other questions related to whether their companion animal helped to keep them fit and well and in touch with other people on, for example, social media. A well-known benefit of having a pet is the companionship. In fact the prime reason for having a companion animal is companionship whereas at the beginnings of cat domestication the animals were more working animals than companions. The answers to the questions were predictably positive.

…having a companion animal… was associated with less deterioration in mental health and smaller increases in loneliness since lockdown…

Cats or dogs?

The most common companion animal species was dogs at 69.9% of participants. Cats were “owned” by 44% of participants. Fish (9.1%), horses or ponies (6.3%), birds (5.3%), reptiles (3.9%), farm animals (1.2%) and amphibians (0.7%) were also companion animals. 41% had one companion animal while 24.2% had two. 2% of participants acquired a new companion animal during the lockdown.

Elderly Lady and Faithful Cat Companion. Photo in public domain.

Worry

Participants were asked whether they were concerned about caring for their companion animal during the lockdown because of financial difficulties, complications and getting supplies such as pet food and obtaining veterinary treatment. Participants also were concerned about changes in routine and how that affected their companion animal. Restrictions regarding taking the dog for a walk and getting infected while doing so was also a concern.

Most companion animal guardians (67.6%) were worried about their pet because of the restrictions placed upon them by the Covid-19 viral infection. 40.8% were concerned about limited access to veterinary care and 21.7% were concerned about restrictions regarding exercise and walks. 99.7% said that they had not considered giving up their animal during the crisis.

The lead of the research, Dr Elena Ratschen from the Department of Health Sciences University of York said that the findings confirm the link between the bond between human and animal and mental health.

Desire to adopt an animal

Quite surprisingly, 48.6% of participants wanted to adopt companion animal under different circumstances. 21.1% said that they were thinking about fostering a companion animal during the Covid-19 crisis.

Benefit

The vast majority of animal owners perceive their animals to help them cope with the pandemic context and reported that they constituted an important source of emotional support. – Elena Ratschen.

Benefits for companion animal owners were equal across the species. The point made here is that the owner of a hamster received the same emotional support and benefit as did the owner of a cat or dog. The researchers said that living with a companion animal helped to make it easier to deal with mental health issues due to the coronavirus crisis and lockdown. 96% of participants said that their companion animal had helped to keep them fit and active while 90% said that their presence helped them to cope psychologically. In short, a companion animal helped to reduce psychological issues such as stress brought about because of the crisis.

Dr Elena Ratschen made the point that the study should not of itself encourage people to adopt a pet as a means to “protect their mental health during the pandemic”. Comment: it appears that she wants to ensure that people don’t adopt companion animal carelessly and without considering all the ramifications and responsibilities for the long-term future, going well beyond the time when the crisis is over. Living with a companion animal is for the life of the animal not just for the duration of the crisis.

Reddit commenter

This is not part of the survey but is a nice comment about the cat-human relationship:

I love my four-legged furbaby Clyde. He is a great listener, purs like a motor, jumps and climbs all over the place. At the moment, he is into knocking things off of tables. He has already knocked several glasses of water, ice tea and juice onto the floor. But we love him so and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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