A study published on the 5th February 2018 in the BMC Psychiatry Journal revealed that pets can in fact improve an owners mental health.
The study was conducted by researchers from the Universities of Liverpool, Manchester and Southampton and was entitled "The power of support from companion animals for people living with mental health problems: a systematic review and narrative synthesis of the evidence".
As part of the study, the researchers looked at 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.
It was found that pets helped the owners to manage their feelings and provided a powerful distraction from the stress of having mental health problems. The animals were seen as being non-judgemental about their owners, helped alleviate loneliness as well as helping individuals to calm down and relax when they feel they are spiralling out. Dr Helen Brooks, lead author of the study stated "pets were considered particularly useful during times of crisis. In this way, pets provided a unique form of validation through unconditional support, which people were often not receiving from other family or social relationships."
Some pets were also seen as helpful in terms of encouraging physical activity such as taking the dog for a walk but also allowing them to engage socially with other pet owners. Even one hamster owner said that merely cleaning its cage and feeding the animal gave her a purpose.
The study did highlight some negative aspects of pet ownership, including the practical and emotional burden of pet ownership and the psychological impact that losing a pet has, but despite these - it was concluded "this review suggests that pets can provide benefits to those with mental health conditions through the intensity of connectivity with their owners and the contribution they make to emotional support in times of crises together with their ability to help manage symptoms when they arise".
The relationship between humans and domestic animals is well documented and in the UK, there are an estimated 10 million cats with 23% of households having one or more cat and an estimated 11.5 million dogs - with 30% of households being home to one or more dogs. Despite these high numbers of pet owners, there is relatively little research into the benefits of owning a pet - but the study discussed above has hopefully opened the door to the need for further research.
Read the study yourself at: