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Dogs have provided support during the pandemic

A new study published in the journal PLoS One has found that dogs are boosting their owners’ mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing social support and alleviating symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression caused by the pandemic.

A team of scientists from Purina Institute offered a questionnaire to 1,535 participants from the United States in order to assess the ways in which dog ownership impacted their mental health during the pandemic. Among them, 768 were dog owners and 767 were potential dog owners. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected diverse populations and our results provide evidence that pet owners and potential pet owners have also been impacted,” said study lead author Dr. Francois Martin, a researcher at the Purina Institute.

“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.”

Although there was no significant difference in anxiety and happiness scores between the two groups, dog owners reported a stronger sense of social support from their pets which significantly contributed to their sense of wellbeing during the pandemic.

“Our results show that pet dog owners were significantly less depressed than non-pet owners during the COVID-19 pandemic. 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,” explained the study authors.

Moreover, dog walking has strongly contributed to both psychological and physical health. “Dog walking during confinements may have alleviated stressors and motivated self-care,” wrote the study authors. 

A limitation of this study is that it did not consider other types of pets besides dogs. According to Dr. Martin, such pets are also likely to provide social support to humans. However, more research is needed to assess whether this support is equivalent to that offered by dogs, and if the psychological mechanisms involved are similar to those characterizing human-dog relationships.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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