Dog ownership may reduce loneliness and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic

1. This observational study found that dog owners reported significantly less social isolation and depression compared to non-dog owners.

2. However, the scores for anxiety and perceived satisfaction did not differ significantly between the groups.

Evidence Rating Level: 2 (good)

The 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has led to the implementation of public health measures that limit social interaction. In particular, the loss of social support is a risk factor for reduced psychological well-being. Dogs (Canis familiaris) are routinely used as a therapeutic tool for social support of long-term and pediatric patients. Accordingly, accompanying them can reduce feelings of social isolation and associated mental health consequences during COVID-19.

This observational study aimed to describe the impact of dog ownership on psychological well-being during a global crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants were included who were >18 years old, spoke English, could use a computer and lived in the United States. Individuals who owned an animal other than a dog were excluded from the study. Recruitment was conducted in November 2020 by an external research agency. Mental well-being was assessed using the Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support (MSPSS), Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale-Revised (CESD-R), Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale (GAD-7), and Oxford Happiness Questionnaire (OHQ).

A total of 1535 participants completed the survey, 768 in the dog owner group and 767 controls without pets. Dog owners reported significantly lower depression scores (p=0.018) than controls and increased perceived social support (p=0.042). Alternatively, no significant difference was seen between the groups in anxiety (p=0.186) and happiness (p=0.216) scores. However, study results may not be generalizable because only individuals in the United States were recruited and may have different COVID-19 restrictions depending on their state of residence. Nonetheless, this study showed that dog ownership can help mitigate the effects of the emotional distress of social isolation.

Click here to read the study in PLOS ONE

Image: PD

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