Owning a dog may have helped some people cope with the pandemic
- Researchers recently conducted an observational study on dog owners during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The study assessed the effects of the pandemic on the finances, health, lifestyle and emotions of these people.
- Dog owners were less depressed and reported more social support during the pandemic compared to a control group who did not own dogs.
- However, the study has some important limitations.
There is a lot of science supporting the adage that dogs are man’s best friend.
For example, according to research, owning a dog can
Likewise, there is plenty of research showing the different ways that dogs help improve the well-being of their human owners.
Now, a team of researchers from Nestlé Purina Research in St. Louis, MO, report that dog owners reported less depression and felt they had more social support compared to a control group during the COVID pandemic -19.
Dr François Martin, Senior Author and Section Head of the Behavior and Well-Being Group at Nestlé Purina Research, spoke with Medical News Today:
“The context of the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a unique opportunity to better understand how dogs can provide social support to their owners, alleviate increased symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression, and contribute to happiness. “
Researchers believe their study shows that owning a dog has helped protect pet owners from some of the negative psychological impacts resulting from the pandemic. They also say it adds to the scientific evidence that dogs provide positive support to their owners during difficult times.
The results of this observational study appear in the journal PLOS ONE.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had both a psychological and physiological impact on humans.
Other research has reported a threefold increase in depressive symptoms in the United States during the pandemic. The UK also saw an increase in mental health issues around this time.
Social support helps to balance the negative effects that important life events can have on the psychological and physiological well-being of humans.
In the recent study, the authors define social support as involving one or more of the following:
- an awareness of being cared for
- the knowledge of being loved, esteemed and valued
- the feeling of belonging to a united network
Previous research shows that social support helps people moderate life stress and has a beneficial effect on the cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune systems.
Additionally, previous research shows that social support may have a positive effect on the quality of life of people with conditions such as
For the observational study, Dr. Martin and his team used data from 768 dog owners and 767 potential dog owners in the United States, all aged 18 and over and who took an online survey.
The researchers defined “potential dog owners” as those who did not own a dog during the study period but were very interested in owning one in the future. This group served as a control.
The team excluded from the study respondents whose dogs were service or therapy animals.
The study survey included various demographic questions as well as questions about the dogs owned by the respondents. Participants also answered questions regarding the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their finances, health, lifestyle and emotions.
“As in the general population, dog owners and potential dog owners have been affected by the pandemic,” said Dr. Martin.
“Overall, 33% of our respondents said their health had been somewhat to extremely affected, 45% said their finances were somewhat to extremely affected, 67% said their emotions were somewhat to extremely affected. extremely affected and 72% said their lifestyle had been somewhat to extremely impacted.
Additionally, the researchers rated participants’ responses using six different psychometric scales:
- Pet Attitude Scale: This scale measures a person’s positivity towards their pet.
- Miller-Rada Scale of Commitment to Pets: This scale estimates how much time, energy, and resources an owner is willing to give a pet.
- Multidimensional scale of perceived social support: Researchers use it to determine the level of social support a person feels they are receiving.
- Revised Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale: This scale examines how well a person meets the criteria for depression.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorders Scale: Researchers use this scale to measure anxiety.
- Oxford Happiness Quiz: It is a technique to assess the happiness of a person.
With the results in tabular form, Dr Martin said his team found that dog owners reported having much more social support available to them compared to the group of potential dog owners.
“We also found that dog owners had significantly lower depression scores than potential dog owners, but the two groups had similar anxiety and happiness scores,” he added.
According to Dr. Martin, the results suggest that owning a dog may have given people a stronger sense of social support, which, in turn, may have helped alleviate some of the negative psychological effects of the COVID pandemic. -19.
Regarding further research, Dr Martin said that one thing that emerged from the study was that the contribution of companion dogs to the well-being of people might be more apparent in people in precarious states, such as than those who experience high stress or social problems. isolation.
“Compared to those who reported high perceived social support, people – dog owners and potential dog owners – who reported low social support had about twice as high scores for depression and anxiety, and their happiness scores were significantly lower, ”explained Dr. Martin.
Dr Martin said MNT that the depression scores of participants with low perceived social support were almost three times higher than the depression scores of participants with high levels of perceived social support.
However, since there were such large differences between the groups – 77 in the weak group, 420 in the moderate group and 1,032 in the high group – he explained that “it was not possible to analyze the data. statistically “.
“This suggests that the effects of dog ownership may be more measurable in populations of people with low to moderate social support,” he added. “Future research should focus on people with low and moderate social support. It is an avenue that seems important to explore.
MNT also spoke with Dr. Stephen L. Stern, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Joe R. & Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at San Antonio. He is also a member of the STRONG STAR research consortium.
He explained that he was concerned with the design and conclusions of the study:
“Although the samples are very large, it is not clear to what extent they were representative of the general population,” he said.
“In addition, members of the control group could have differed from dog owners other than not having a dog. The two groups could also come from areas that were differently affected by the pandemic at the time of the investigation. “
– Dr Stern
Overall, Dr Stern thinks the findings are ‘overblown’, stating:
“There was a statistically significant difference between the two groups – possibly due to the very large sample sizes – but the effect sizes were very small and the differences in the rating scale scores were not. clinically significant. “
It’s also worth noting that Nestlé Purina sells more dry dog food in the United States than any other company.