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16/06/2020 - General information

Companion animals have been an important source of emotional support during lockdown

This is the first study to evaluate changes in the relationship between people and animals in the face of a drastic alteration in the surroundings

A study conducted by researchers from the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM) and the Affinity Foundation Chair at the UAB has concluded that companion animals have been an important source of emotional support for people during confinement. This benefit was greater the more the person has suffered from the confinement.

The study also found that lockdown can have negative consequences for the animals. Specifically, dogs have shown more signs of nervousness and frustration, and may have trouble adjusting to their usual routine after confinement. Cats may have been exposed to excessive handling by the people they live with, which can lead to stress and­­ adaptation problems. In short, as people we still do not really understand the language of our animals, and we have not translated their real needs adequately.

We know that animals support people in difficult times, but this benefit has never been measured in a context where the whole population has been exposed to the same problem, on the scale of the COVID-19 epidemic. The goal was therefore to see what effect confinement had on the behaviour of companion cats and dogs and the support they provided their owners. To do this, the researchers surveyed nearly 1300 families across Spain, using a variation of a scale previously validated by another study on the link between people and animals.

According to Jaume Fatjó, a researcher in the IMIM's Anxiety, Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia research group, "what we have discovered highlights the value of living with pets and the importance of their role as part of people's social network." In addition, Fatjó says, "we have found that the relationship with the pet is dynamic, depending on the circumstances surrounding the person. During lockdown, the emotional dimension of the relationship with the animal has increased, while the costs related to living together have decreased".  People, contrary to the health recommendations issued during lockdown on how to relate to animals, have petted, hugged and even kissed their pets more.

This is the first study to evaluate changes in the relationship between people and animals in the face of a drastic alteration in the surroundings. The results suggest that living with animals is not a luxury and that more interventions are needed to promote a coexistence with animals that takes into account their nature and needs.

The next step is to be able to compare data between countries, with different degrees of exposure and the varied handling of the pandemic, as well as differences in the way people relate to their animals. "At the moment we have replicated the study in Italy, where we already have data from 1500 families, in the United Kingdom, with more than 5000 responses, and we are about to launch in France and the United States", the researchers conclude.

Reference article

The effects of the Spanish COVID-19 lockdown on people, their pets and the human-animal bond. Jonathan Bowen, Elena García, Patricia Darder, Juan Argüelles, Jaume Fatjó. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2020.05.013

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