Companion animal type and level of engagement matter: a mixed-methods study examining links between companion animal guardianship, loneliness and well-being during the covid-19 pandemic

Heather Clements*, Stephanie Valentin, Nicholas Jenkins, Jean Rankin, Nancy R. Gee, Donna Snellgrove, Katherine A. Sloman*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

To reduce the spread of COVID-19, countries worldwide placed limitations on social interaction, which is anticipated to have severe psychological consequences. Although findings are inconsistent, prior research has suggested that companion animals may positively influence human well-being and reduce loneliness. In the context of COVID-19, this has important implications, as companion animal guardians may be less negatively affected by the pandemic. The primary aim of this research was to investigate the influence of companion animals on mental well-being and loneliness during the pandemic, with specific interest in the role of ornamental fishes. A mixed-methods study was conducted, using an international sample. Quantitative data were collected via an online survey (n = 1199) and analysed using robust hierarchical multiple regression analyses; the influence of level of engagement with companion animals was examined for dogs, cats and ornamental fishes. There was no evidence that companion animal guardianship was associated with loneliness and mental well-being during the pandemic but spending more time engaging physically or socially with dogs (and to a lesser extent cats) was generally associated with poorer outcomes. Qualitative data were collected through open-ended survey responses (n = 757) and semi-structured interviews (n = 25) and analysed using reflexive thematic analysis. Two themes were developed—one related to companion animals as providers of social and emotional support, and the other to companion animals as providers of purpose and perspective. Concerns regarding the impact of the pandemic on animal welfare were also identified. Compared to other animal types, more participants expressed indifference regarding the impact of their fishes on their well-being during the pandemic, possibly because fishes cannot provide comfort via physical touch. The findings of this study reflect the wider field of human–animal interaction; although qualitative data suggest guardians believe their companion animals are a positive influence in their lives, there is little convincing quantitative data to support these beliefs. This highlights the need to refine theories regarding which aspects of companion animal guardianship may influence human well-being; the findings from this research may be useful in the refinement of such theories.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2349
Number of pages22
JournalAnimals
Volume11
Issue number8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 9 Aug 2021

Keywords

  • human-animal interaction
  • ornamental fishes
  • COVID-19
  • mixed methods
  • loneliness
  • mental well-being

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