Social isolation and loneliness were already a public health concern among older and younger people before COVID-19. The pandemic only made it worse. But many quickly learned animals can make up for some of those missing connections.
“There's also good research to show that people with mental health challenges who are often social isolated can benefit from having companion animals,” said Steve Feldman, Executive Director at the Human Animal Bond Research Institute.
The Human Animal Bond Research Institute and Mars Petcare are studying the social bond between humans and pets.
Representatives from organizations like the National Council on Aging, the American Veterinarian Association, even a former surgeon general talked about benefits and barriers to pet ownership at a summit pre-COVID-19.
“Well, you can give somebody a pill and it’s pretty easy to know what the dose is. What's the right dose of a dog, right? We need to make sure we continue to study this and have it exactly right to help as many people as possible,” said Feldman.
The goal with pet-human benefit research is to come up with best practices to overcome barriers to animal interactions.
Also, translating research into practical recommendations that medical and mental health professionals can provide for patients.
Already, research points towards people with low social support systems likely benefiting from pets. Those animals fulfill a need to confide in or talk with someone trusted.
There is a significant link between interacting with companion animals and the development of social awareness and relationship skills with other people.
Pet owners also report they have gotten to know and made friends with people in their neighborhood through companion animals.