No matter what challenges you’re navigating, a pet can help you cope. Here are five examples of how dogs and cats provide support and companionship during emotional or circumstantial turbulence.
In a study1 that asked children to list their closest relationships, pets often scored higher than humans. But animal companions aren’t only helpful for children – they can also help adults cope with difficult situations.
Due to an aging population and decreasing family bonds in many countries worldwide, loneliness has become a major issue in our modern world. Research2 has shown that loneliness leads to reduced physical health. A study by Mars Petcare and the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI)3 found that 61% of Americans either feel lonely or socially isolated. A whopping 89% of survey participants got a pet and confirmed that their pet has helped them cope with their loneliness and ultimately feel less lonely. In general, people with the closest bonds with their pets see the highest positive impact on their feelings of loneliness.
2. Major life changes
Life changes such as divorce, loss of a job or moving to another city interfere negatively with our social needs and prevent us from living a happy life. Sharing your life with a dog is one way to live a happy life, according to a study out of Miami University and St. Louis University4. The social needs of pet parents, it concluded, are fulfilled to a greater extent through their dogs than through their human relations. Therefore, our pets can be the pillar of constancy, strength, and support that we need to cope amid turbulent periods of our lives.
3. Personal loss
Personal loss of a loved one, either a family member, friend or colleague, is one of the main causes of distress – especially if the death comes unexpectedly. A University of Cambridge study5 found that pets do indeed comfort humans suffering from loss. A companion animal feels our sorrow and cuddles up to us to console us, offering a feeling of love, belonging, and profound comfort.
In 2017, 3.4% (264 million people worldwide) suffered from depression6. Animals in general have been shown to be effective antidotes to depression. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be a clinical form of depression7. Sometimes we suffer from mood swings and look at everything around us in a negative way. In a Mars Petcare and HABRI3 survey of hospital patients, 90% of respondents said that spending time with pets improved their mood.
5. Global crisis
Global crises such as wars, natural disasters, or the current COVID-19 pandemic often have a devastating impact on us. The world is entering a “mental health tsunami” due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, according to the UK’s Royal College of Psychiatrists8. A study conducted by the UK’s Mental Health Foundation and the Cats Protection Charity9 concluded that a whopping 87% of cat parents cited the positive impact of their cat on their well-being. Some (76%) claimed they could cope with everyday life much better due to their feline companions.
If you’re struggling to cope with a difficult situation, spend some extra time with your animal companion. He might not be able to offer any advice, but he’ll certainly help brighten your outlook!
1McNicholas, J. and G.M. Collis. “Children’s representations of pets in their social networks.” Child Care, Health and Development. Volume 27 Issue 3, p279-294. May 2001.
2Perissinotto, C.M., Stijacic Cenzer, I., and Covinsky, K.E. (2012). Loneliness in older persons: a predictor of functional decline and death. Archives of Internal Medicine, 172(14):1078-1083.
3Mars Petcare and HABRI. Addressing The Social Isolation & Loneliness Epidemic with The Power of Companion Animals. Summit on Social Isolation and Companion Animals. A report by the Consortium on Social Interaction and Companion Animals. May 7, 2019.
4McConnell, A. R., Brown, C. M., Shoda, T. M., Stayton, L. E., & Martin, C. E. (2011, July 4). Friends With Benefits: On the Positive Consequences of Pet Ownership. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024506
5Cassels, Matthew T., et al. “One of the family? Measuring young adolescents’ relationships with pets and siblings.” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 49 (2017):12-20.
6Ritchie, H., Roser,. Mental Health. Our world in data. April 2018. https://ourworldindata.org/mental-health
7Davis, Jeanie Lerche. “5 Ways Pets Can Improve Your Health.” WebMD. Sept. 25, 2008. (May 4,2009) http://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/guide/5-ways-pets-improve-your-health?page=2
8BBC News. Psychiatrists fear ‘tsunami’ of mental illness after lockdown. May 16, 2020. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-52676981.
9Mental Health Foundation UK. Pets and Mental Health. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/p/pets-and-mental-health