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.
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