Pets can help to improve the mental health of the owners, a study conducted by researchers from the universities of Liverpool, Manchester and Southampton have found.
Published in BMC Psychiatry, the researchers looked at the role of domestic animals in the lives of those suffering with a mental health condition.
They reviewed 17 international research papers to explore the positive, negative and neutral impacts of pet ownership. With regard to negative impacts, researchers looked into the practical and emotional burden of pet ownership and the psychological impact that losing a pet has.
All participants in the sample had a diagnosable mental health condition or mental health problems associated with a diagnosed physical health condition. Two of the studies involved interviews with parents of children who had a family pet, the remaining studies collected data directly from participants with a companion animal. Twelve of the studies included all types of companion animals and four specifically focused on either dogs and/or cats.
In total, 1727 pet owners were involved in the included studies.
Of the 17 included studies, 15 reported positive aspects of pet ownership for people experiencing mental health problems and nine reported negative elements, suggesting that overall, pets had a beneficial effect on their owner’s mental state of mind.
There are an estimated 10 million cats (23 percent of households with one or more cat) and 11.5 million dogs (30 percent of households with one or more dog) kept as pets in the UK.
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.”