It is estimated that there are 10 million cats and 11.5 million dogs kept as pets in the UK – and new research suggests they could be improving the mental health of their human companions.
A new study, published in BMC Psychiatry, conducted by researchers from the universities of Liverpool, Manchester and Southampton, is the first systematic review of the evidence related to the comprehensive role of companion animals and how pets might contribute to the management of long-term mental health conditions.
The researchers reviewed 17 international research papers to explore the extent, nature and quality of the evidence implicating the role and utility of pet ownership for people living with a mental health condition, and to identify the positive, negative and neutral impacts of pet ownership.
The research highlighted the ‘intensiveness’ of connectivity people with companion animals reported, and the many ways in which pets contributed to the work associated with managing a mental health condition, particularly in times of crisis.
The negative aspects of pet ownership were also highlighted, including the practical and emotional burden of pet ownership and the psychological impact that losing a pet has.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Helen Brooks, said: ‘Our review suggests that pets provide benefits to those with mental health conditions. Further research is required to test the nature and extent of this relationship, incorporating outcomes that cover the range of roles and types of support pets confer in relation to mental health and the means by which these can be incorporated into the mainstay of support for people experiencing a mental health problem.’