Everyone who has experienced the love of a pet knows how the world changes when they are by our sides. Our stress levels seem to subside and feelings of loneliness fade. Many of us have felt it, but it’s only recently that researchers have started to study the true effect of the human-animal bond—particularly for those people struggling with mental health challenges and/or loneliness.

The impact of loneliness

Loneliness has started to reach epidemic proportions. In a survey conducted by Mars Petcare and the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), 61% of Americans said they feel lonely or socially isolated. Loneliness can contribute to depression, cognitive decline, and can increase risk for heart disease and stroke. The impact of loneliness has even been estimated to be similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It’s urgent that as a society we find ways to address this growing public health crisis. As it turns out, pets may be part of the solution.

Research has shown that 80% of people say their pets make them feel less lonely, and 9 in 10 people aged 55+ believe pets can help older people combat loneliness.

Steps in the right direction

With growing evidence that pets have a positive impact on a person’s health and well-being, there’s momentum among the veterinary profession and health experts to look for more ways to address social isolation through interactions with pets. Earlier this month, experts came together for the first Social Isolation, Loneliness and Companion Animal Summit, co-hosted by Mars Petcare and HABRI. Topics for the summit included:

  • Determining what evidence is needed to support animal-assisted programs
  • Identifying the barriers to pet ownership and interaction
  • Highlighting the circumstances when animal-interventions have been the most valuable

It’s exciting to see the energy behind this cause and the attention given to the impact pets have on our lives. We look forward to sharing updates with our fellow pet-loving community!