Summary: During the COVID-19 pandemic, dog and cat owners in the United States have grown closer to their pets, although pet ownership has not consistently alleviated stress and loneliness. The relationship between mental health and pet ownership was complex, with dog owners experiencing greater reductions in stress and loneliness compared to cat owners and non-pet owners.
- During the COVID-19 pandemic, dog and cat owners in the United States have grown closer to their pets.
- Dog owners experienced greater reductions in stress and loneliness during reopening and recovery periods compared to cat owners and non-pet owners.
- Pet ownership did not consistently alleviate stress and loneliness during the pandemic, but pet owners reported less loneliness specifically related to romantic relationships compared to non-pet owners.
A new analysis suggests that during the COVID-19 pandemic, American dog and cat owners grew closer to their pets and a complex relationship developed between pet ownership, stress and loneliness.
Niwako Ogata and Hsin-Yi Weng from Purdue University, USA, and their colleague present these results in the open access journal PLOS ONE on April 26, 2023.
The COVID-19 pandemic provides a unique setting for exploring relationships between pet owners and the potential links between pet ownership and mental health. Several previous studies have investigated these topics in the context of the pandemic, but with limited scope.
Ogata and Weng conducted a series of surveys to capture the dynamics of dog and cat ownership in the United States – pre-pandemic, during lockdown April-June 2020, reopening September-December 2020 and a recovery period from January to December 2021.
Surveys included questions related to participants’ proximity to the animal they felt most attached to, stress and loneliness levels, demographics, housing situation, personality and other factors. potentially relevant. Participants included 1,266 people with dogs and cats, 1,186 with dogs only, 1,128 with cats only and 657 without pets.
Statistical analysis of survey responses showed that dog and cat owners grew closer to their pets over the study period. However, the links between pet ownership and mental health were more complex.
Compared to cat owners and participants without pets, dog owners experienced greater reductions in stress and loneliness during the reopening and recovery periods.
Nonetheless, researchers did not find statistically strong evidence that pet ownership alleviated participants’ levels of stress and loneliness during the pandemic, and cat owners generally had more stress and loneliness. than the other participants.
However, separating the different types of loneliness showed that, compared to non-pet owners, pet owners reported less loneliness specifically related to romantic relationships.
Further analysis suggests that the different results observed for dog owners compared to cat owners may be explained by differences in the pet-ownership relationship between these two groups.
Researchers will continue to collect similar data through 2023 to capture any further changes in relationships between pet owners, stress and loneliness.
The authors add, “People have felt closer to their pets during the COVID-19 pandemic, even though pet ownership has not alleviated stress and loneliness. Owning a dog and owning a cat acted differently on mental health, but the difference between them could be partly explained by the owner-pet relationship.
Funding: This study, as a whole, is funded by the Morris Animal Foundation (grant number: D22FE-041, received by HYW; funder website URL: https://www.morrisanimalfoundation.org/). The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
About this stress and mental health research news
Author: Hana Abdullah
Contact: Hanna Abdallah – PLOS
Picture: Image is credited to Neuroscience News
Original research: Free access.
“Temporal patterns of owner-pet relationship, stress, and loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the effect of pet ownership on mental health: a longitudinal investigation” by Hsin-Yi Weng et para. PLOS ONE
Temporal patterns of owner-pet relationship, stress, and loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the effect of pet ownership on mental health: a longitudinal investigation
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected us in many ways and can therefore impact our relationships with pet dogs and cats.
We conducted a longitudinal survey to examine temporal patterns of owner-pet relationship, stress, and loneliness during four phases of the pandemic: 1) pre-pandemic (February 2020), 2) lockdown (April to June 2020), 3) reopening (September to December 2020), and 4) recovery (January 2021 to December 2021). We also investigated the effect of pet ownership on stress and loneliness, considering a set of First of all causal hypotheses.
Additionally, we hypothesized that differences in levels of stress and loneliness between dog and cat owners were mediated by the owner-pet relationship.
A total of 4,237 participants (657 non-pet owners, 1,761 dog owners and 1,819 cat owners) completed between one and six surveys. Overall, the closeness in the relationship between owners and their pets increased over time over the study period.
We also observed that dog owners consistently showed greater decreases in stress and loneliness levels than both cat and non-pet owners. However, after adjusting for confounders, the results did not support a mitigating effect of pet ownership.
Owning a pet did not alleviate stress, social loneliness resulting from a lack of friendships or connections at work, or emotional loneliness due to gaps in family relationships. Pet owners, however, reported a lower degree of emotional loneliness caused by deficits in romantic relationships than non-pet owners.
Our results also indicated that differences in levels of stress and loneliness between dog and cat owners were partly explained by the owner-pet relationship, and once this was taken into account, the differences between they were shrinking. In summary, this study highlights the dynamic effects of COVID-19 on the owner-pet relationship and mental health.
It also shows the complexity of the association between pet ownership and mental health, partly mediated by owner-pet relationships.