Science Says Dogs Have Helped Improve the Mental Health of Their Owners Throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic

New research published in the journal PLOS One found that pet parents have social support, thanks to their canines.

Welcoming a dog into your family has plenty of positive benefits for owners, including having a new best friend. But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, research has shown that there are mental health perks associated with having a four-legged companion around. "Dog owners reported having significantly more social support available to them compared to potential dog owners, and their depression scores were also lower, compared to potential dog owners," Dr. Francois Martin, a researcher from Nestle Purina Research and the corresponding author for a new study published in the journal PLOS One, said.

The researchers found that our beloved canines can provide a sense of social support based on a review of over 1,500 pet parents and potential dog owners (those who are interested in having a dog in the future) across the United States. "There were no differences in anxiety and happiness scores between the two groups. Dog owners had a significantly more positive attitude towards and commitment to pets. Taken together, our results suggest that dog ownership may have provided people with a stronger sense of social support, which in turn may have helped buffer some of the negative psychological impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic," the researchers added.

smiling woman with dog licking her face
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images

Previous studies highlighted how having a pet can improve mood, decrease loneliness, boost social support, and increase physical fitness. Per this study, 91 percent of the dog owners said their dogs helped them cope emotionally and 96 percent said their pets helped them maintain their exercise routine during quarantine. "Dog walking during confinements may have alleviated stressors and motivated self-care," the team wrote. "However, recent studies have also reported that pet ownership during the COVID-19 pandemic may have negatively affected people because of limited availability to resources." Veterinary care and pet supplies were some resources the owners explained.

The study authors want to dive into more research to explain the connection between pet owners and overall wellness. Researchers noted that other studies will highlight those with low and moderate social support and include owners with varying levels of attachments to their dogs. "Our results show that pet dog owners were significantly less depressed than non-pet owners during the COVID-19 pandemic," they said. "They are attached and committed to their dogs and they reported more social support available to them. Our work adds to the corpus of scientific literature demonstrating that pet dogs may positively contribute to the wellbeing of owners during difficult times."

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