1. This observational study found that dog owners reported significantly lower social isolation and depression compared to non-dog owners.

2. However, anxiety and perceived happiness scores did not vary significantly between groups.

Evidence Rating Level: 2 (Good)

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has resulted in the implementation of public health measures limiting social interaction. Notably, loss of social support is a risk factor for decreased mental wellness. Dogs (Canis familiaris) are routinely used as a therapeutic aid to provide social support to patients in long-term and pediatric care. Accordingly, their companionship may reduce feelings of social isolation and associated mental health consequences during COVID-19.

This observational study aimed to delineate the impact of dog ownership on mental wellbeing during a global crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants were included who were >18 years of age, spoke English, were able to use a computer, and living in the United States. Individuals who owned an animal other than a dog were excluded from the study. Recruitment was conducted by a third-party research agency during November of 2020. Mental wellbeing was assessed with the Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support (MSPSS), Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale-Revised (CESD-R), Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale (GAD-7), and Oxford Happiness Questionnaire (OHQ).

In total, 1535 participants completed the survey with 768 in the dog owner group and 767 controls without pets. Dog owners reported significantly lower depression scores (p=0.018) than the control group as well as increased perceived social support (p=0.042). Alternatively, no significant difference was seen between groups in anxiety (p=0.186) and happiness scores (p=0216). However, the study results may not be generalizable as only individuals in the United States were recruited and may have been under different COVID-19 restrictions depending on their state of residence. Nonetheless, this study demonstrated that dog ownership may help mitigate the impact of emotional distress of social isolation.

Click to read the study in PLOS ONE

Image: PD

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