Dog owners were less depressed during COVID pandemic: study


Dog owners said they had more of a perceived social support system than non-dog owners, the study found.


The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for people around the world, but for those who have returned home with a dog, maybe it was a little more bearableaccording to a recent study.

The study, published Dec. 15 in the journal PLOS One, found that dog owners reported having significantly more social support available to them than would-be dog owners, and their depression scores were also lower than potential dog owners.

“Taken together, our results suggest that owning a dog 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. “, concludes the report.

The study involved an online survey for dog owners and potential dog owners that measured scales of depression, anxiety, happiness, attitude and commitment to pets, and social support. perceived. The researchers also asked participants how COVID-19 was affecting their lives. Potential dog owners were people who did not own a dog but wanted to own one in the future.

The study only included people aged 18 or older, who spoke English, had access to a computer, and lived in the United States. Those who owned pets that were not dogs were excluded. Owners of service or emotional support dogs were not included due to the specific nature of the dog-owner relationship, according to the study. The two groups, dog owners and potential dog owners, were matched in terms of demographic characteristics.

The results showed that 67% said their emotions had been somewhat to extremely impacted by COVID-19, and 72% said their lifestyle had been somewhat to extremely impacted.

There are a number of reasons why pets, and dogs in particular, can provide emotional comfort to their owners during traumatic or stressful times in their lives. Pets are considered always available, according to the study; they are non-judgmental and offer tactile comfort as well as a recreational distraction from worries.

On average, dog owners had a lower depression score, with an average score of 12.41, compared to potential dog owners, who had an average score of 14.06, a “statistically significant” difference, according to the study.

But owners may be exaggerating how much their dogs have helped them through the pandemic, the study finds. That’s not to say owners lie about how much they think their pet has helped them through tough times, but dogs may not be the only factor in their support system.

Previous research has shown that pet owners strongly attribute their emotional well-being and ability to cope with the pandemic to having a pet.

“Based on (previous surveys), it appears that pets were highly valued and positively contributed to their owners’ quality of life in a significant way during the pandemic. Why the dog effect doesn’t Wasn’t that more evident in the data we collected?” the study asked.

The study hypothesized that the combined support of people and a pet may cause people to perceive a higher level of support from their animal, or that dogs provide significantly higher support to people in stressful situations.

Although the study was able to identify a difference in levels of depression and perceived levels of support between dog owners and non-dog owners, it could not find a correlation between levels of anxiety or of happiness and the possession of an animal.

In fact, while some previous research shows dog owners have reduced levels of anxiety, others show completely the oppositethat they might be more likely to report anxiety.

“The mixed results indicated by research to date reveal a knowledge gap regarding when and how companion dog ownership contributes to greater well-being among pet owners,” the study acknowledged. .

The group suggested that further research should focus on people with low to moderate social support and include dog owners with varying levels of attachment to their dogs, as this factor has not been addressed in the study.

“Our work adds to the body of scientific literature demonstrating that companion dogs can positively contribute to owners’ well-being during difficult times,” the study concludes. “However, further work is needed to better understand the relationship between pet ownership and social support as modulators of owner well-being.”

There is, however, no doubt that there has been a boom in pet adoption in 2020 when COVID-19 started altering people’s lives. According to a May 2021 report from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 1 in 5 households have acquired a dog or cat since the start of the pandemic, and many of those households still owned the animal they they had brought: 90% dogs and 85% acquired cats.

The ASPCA report said 87% of survey respondents said they would not consider relocating their pets, indicating a long-term commitment to their new pets.

“This incredibly stressful time has motivated many people to embrace and adopt animals, as well as cherish more of the companion animals already in their lives,” said Matt Bershadker, President and CEO of the ASPCA, in the press release. “Pets always bring joy and comfort to their families no matter how circumstances change, and loving owners continue to recognize and appreciate the essential role pets play in their lives.”

The ASPCA is even offering advice for people who will be returning to the office and are worried about their pets. develop separation anxiety.

This story was originally published December 16, 2021 1:49 p.m.

Alison Cutler is a national real-time reporter for the Southeast at McClatchy. She graduated from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University and previously worked for The News Leader in Staunton, VA, an affiliate of USAToday.