A study by scientists at the University of York and the University of Lincoln found that having an animal for company while the strictest coronavirus restrictions were in place benefited mental health and reduced loneliness.The survey showed all types of pets could boost well-being, regardless of species.More than 90 per cent said their pet helped them cope emotionally with the lockdown and 96 per cent said their animal helped them keep fit and active.However, more than two thirds of owners reported having felt worried about their animals during the coronavirus crisisMost fears centred on restrictions on access to veterinary care and exercise, as well as concern over who would look after their pet if they fell ill themselves.“Findings from this study also demonstrated potential links between people’s mental health and the emotional bonds they form with their pets,” said lead researcher Dr Elena Ratschen, from the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York.“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.”
More than a fifth of UK households are estimated to own at least one pet.Lifestyle changes to restrict the spread of Covid-19, such as people switching to working from home, sparked a massive increase in the number of people taking on pets during lockdown.
The scientists are warning people against rushing out to get a pet in a bid to boost their own well-being. Co-researcher Professor Daniel Mills, from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, said: “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. “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.”