Sharing a home with a pet appeared to act as a buffer against the psychological stress during the lockdown, say researchers adding that keeping pets linked to better mental health and reduction in loneliness.
The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, found that having a pet was linked to maintaining better mental health and reducing loneliness. Around 90 per cent of the 6,000 participants who were from the UK had at least one pet.
The strength of the human-animal bond did not differ significantly between species with the most common pets being cats and dogs followed by small mammals and fish.
More than 90 per cent of respondents said their pet helped them cope emotionally with the lockdown and 96 per cent said their pet helped keep them to remain fit and active.
However, 68 per cent of the pet owners reported having been worried about their animals during the lockdown, for example, due to restrictions on access to veterinary care and exercise or because they wouldn’t know who would look after their pet if they fell ill.
“Findings from this study also demonstrated potential links between people’s mental health and the emotional bonds they form with their pets,” said study lead author Elena Ratschen from the University of York in the UK.
“We also discovered that in this study, the strength of the emotional bond with pets did not statistically differ by animal species, meaning that people in our sample felt on average as emotionally close to, for example, their guinea pig as they felt to their dog,” Ratschen added.
The study also showed that the most popular interaction with animals that were not pets was birdwatching. Almost 55 per cent of people surveyed reported watching and feeding birds in their garden.
“This work is particularly important at the current time as it indicates how having a companion animal in your home can buffer against some of the psychological stress associated with lockdown,” said the study authors.
“However, it is important that everyone appreciates their pet’s needs too, as our other work shows failing to meet these can have a detrimental effect for both people and their pets,” they wrote.