Researchers identify the positive and negative impacts of pet ownership
The first ever systematic review of the role of companion animals in improving mental health has been published in the journal BMC Psychiatry.
The research carried out by the universities of Manchester, Southampton and Liverpool set out to explore the role of pets in managing a long-term mental health condition.
A total of 17 studies were included in the review to identify the positive, negative and neutral impacts of owning a pet.
It highlighted how pets helped their owners to manage their feelings and provided a powerful distraction from the stress of managing mental health conditions. The animals were also seen as being non-judgemental about their owners and helped to alleviate loneliness.
The negative aspects highlighted by the study included the practical and emotional burden of owning a pet and the psychological impact that losing a pet has.
“Our review suggests that pets provide benefits to those with mental health conditions,” explains Dr Helen Brooks from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society.
“Further research is required to test the nature and extent of this relationship, incorporating outcomes that cover the range of roles and types of support pets confer in relation to mental health and the means by which these can be incorporated into the mainstay of support for people experiencing a mental health problem.”
Dr Kelly Rushton, from The University of Manchester added: “We feel that pet ownership has a valuable contribution to mental health, so should be incorporated into individual care plans of patients.
“This sort of intervention also offers an opportunity to involve patients in their own mental health service provision through open discussion of what works best for them.”