New Publications Highlight Impact of Companion Animals on Loneliness During the Pandemic

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Multidisciplinary Consortium Led by HABRI and Mars Petcare Contributes to Scientific Advancement of the Human-Animal Bond

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The papers focus on the role of human-animal interaction (HAI) in helping to alleviate loneliness and social isolation during the pandemic.

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) and Mars Petcare, with support from a broad Consortium of partners, today announced the publication of three papers in the open-access Journal Animals, part of a special issue focused on the role of companion animals during the COVID-19 pandemic, Social Isolation and the Roles That Animals Play in Supporting the Lives of Humans: Lessons for COVID19. The papers focus on the role of human-animal interaction (HAI) in helping to alleviate loneliness and social isolation during the pandemic. These papers were authored by working group members of the Consortium on Social Isolation and Companion Animals, established by HABRI and Mars Petcare in 2018.

“These publications represent a critical aspect of our Consortium effort to explore the potential of companion animals to help address the epidemic of loneliness and social isolation, which has only grown more pressing since the pandemic began,” said Steven Feldman, president of HABRI. “As these papers highlight, the human-animal bond has served as a key source of emotional and social support for so many over the last year-and-a-half, underscoring the importance of future research investigating this impact.”

“Social isolation and loneliness are immense societal challenges, affecting people in many ways, which require different interventions and treatment approaches,” said Rena Crumplen, Global Vice-President of Research and Development, Mars Petcare. “These publications represent an important scientific milestone in bridging research and practice – helping bring evidence-based solutions to those affected by social isolation and making the case for multidisciplinary efforts to further the field of HAI more broadly.”

The paper led by Dr. Dawn Carr, Department of Sociology, Florida State University analyzed longitudinal survey data obtained from a Florida community-based sample of adults aged 60+ in September 2018 and October 2020. Researchers set out to test the association between social consequences of COVID-19 and changes in loneliness and the buffering effect of dog walking on this relationship. Results indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with related increases in loneliness, and that walking a dog daily buffered this relationship, suggesting a potential therapeutic effect of dog walking for promoting mental health in older adults, particularly in the context of stressful situations that accentuate risks for loneliness.

A commentary led by Dr. Angela Hughes, DVM, PhD, Global Science Advocacy Senior Manager, Mars Petcare, focused on the impact of the HABRI-Mars Petcare Consortium on Social Isolation and Companion Animals, and how this collaboration has yielded actionable insights and research projects, serving as a model for future cross-disciplinary thinking to elevate HAI for the mutual benefit of people, companion animals and communities.

Dr. Zenithson Ng, DVM, MS, Dipl ABVP, of the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, led a paper focused on discussing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the ways in which people interact with different types of companion animals, including owned pets, therapy animals and service dogs, and provides solution-focused suggestions for sharing the power of the human-animal bond during a time in which physical connections are limited, but when the world needs social connection the most.

“Being a part of the Consortium working groups over the last three years has opened up new avenues for collaboration with researchers and experts from various backgrounds that all care about loneliness and social isolation as a public health crisis and believe in the potential of companion animals to make a positive impact,” said Dr. Dawn Carr, Associate Professor, Florida State University. “Our publication in Animals is one example of how working together can produce new, valuable insights and advance research in this area.”

The Consortium on Social Isolation and Companion Animals is a multidisciplinary effort led by HABRI in partnership with Mars Petcare to explore the potential of companion animals to provide effective relief and to serve as a complementary treatment for social isolation, loneliness and related health outcomes. In May 2019, HABRI and Mars co-hosted the first-ever Summit on Social Isolation and Companion Animals in Washington, DC. The Summit engaged experts and stakeholders in advancing scientific research, sharing best practices, and overcoming societal barriers to facilitate the vital role of companion animals and human-animal interaction (HAI) in addressing the crisis of social isolation and loneliness.

In 2020, HABRI and Mars Petcare released a report, Addressing the Social Isolation and Loneliness Epidemic with the Power of Companion Animals, which brought forward the recommendations from the Summit. The Consortium effort has also resulted in working groups made up of a wide array of experts in human-animal interaction, mental health, healthy aging, and more. Continued engagement by the Consortium on Social Isolation and Companion Animals’ working groups in coming years will be aimed at developing further events, publications, and resources to make HAI more accessible and effective for people suffering from social isolation and loneliness and who might derive the most benefit, while advancing the welfare of companion animals.

Citations:

Carr, D., Friedmann, E., Gee, N. R., Gilchrist, C., Sachs-Ericsson, N., & Koodaly, L. (2021). Dog Walking and the Social Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Loneliness in Older Adults. Animals, 11(7), 1852.

Hughes, A. M., Braun, L., Putnam, A., Martinez, D., & Fine, A. (2021). Advancing Human–Animal Interaction to Counter Social Isolation and Loneliness in the Time of COVID-19: A Model for an Interdisciplinary Public Health Consortium. Animals, 11(8), 2325.

Ng, Z.; Griffin, T.C.; Braun, L. The New Status Quo: Enhancing Access to Human–Animal Interactions to Alleviate Social Isolation & Loneliness in the Time of COVID-19. Animals 2021, 11, 2769.

About HABRI
HABRI is a not-for-profit organization that maintains the world’s largest online library of human-animal bond research and information; funds innovative research projects to scientifically document the health benefits of companion animals; and informs the public about human-animal bond research and the beneficial role of companion animals in society. For more information, please visit https://www.habri.org/.

About Mars Petcare
Part of Mars, Incorporated, a family-owned business with more than a century of history making diverse products and offering services for people and the pets people love, the almost 100,000 Associates across 130 countries in Mars Petcare are dedicated to one purpose: A BETTER WORLD FOR PETS. With 85 years of experience, our portfolio of almost 50 brands serves the health and nutrition needs of the world's pets – including brands PEDIGREE®, WHISKAS®, ROYALCANIN®, NUTRO™, GREENIES™, SHEBA®, CESAR®, IAMS™ and EUKANUBA™ as well as the WALTHAM Petcare Science Institute which has advanced research in the nutrition and health of pets for over 50 years. Mars Petcare is also a leading veterinary health provider through an international network of over 2,000 pet hospitals and diagnostic services including BANFIELD™, BLUEPEARL™, VCA™, Linnaeus, AniCura and Antech. We're also active in innovation and technology for pets, with WISDOM PANEL™ genetic health screening and DNA testing for dogs, the WHISTLE™ GPS dog tracker, and LEAP VENTURE STUDIO accelerator and COMPANION FUND™ programs that drive innovation and disruption in the pet care industry. As a family business and guided by our principles, we are privileged with the flexibility to fight for what we believe in – and we choose to fight for our Purpose: A BETTER WORLD FOR PETS.

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