Pets Play Important Role in Improving Mental Health


Submitted By: Maddie Johnson

Freshman at Orono High School, Maddie Johnson just got a new Cavapoo puppy. His name is Theo!

One of the most challenging aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic is the lack of social interactions. Because of this, mental health has been put at risk. The continued social distancing and quarantine has lead to higher levels of anxiety, stress and depression.

Psychologists are discovering that pets play a significant role in providing relief. A recent study for Plos One examined whether pets have a part in fighting loneliness, and the role that certain pets can have on human mental states. The results give insight into the increase in adoption rates during the pandemic.

This online study surveyed residents from the UK who are over the age of 18 in regards to their companion animals. According to the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA), companion animals are “any domestic-bred or wild-caught animals, permanently living in a community and kept by people for company, enjoyment, world, or psychological support – including but not limited to dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, reptiles, birds and ornamental fish.”

Of 5,926 surveyed, nearly 90 percent of them owned a pet. The online survey included an 11 questionnaire seeking responses ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree,” on the Comfort from Companion Animal Scale, a scale measuring the comfort levels owners experienced from pets.

The study revealed that while the mental states for individuals prior to the pandemic were mixed, owning a pet during this time has lessened the decline of individual positive mental health and has reduced symptoms of loneliness. Animals can serve multiple purposes varying from household pets to assisting in the military, but have been shown to aid in physical and mental health issues.

“Before the pandemic, there were 400 million animals in the United States, and after the pandemic, there is about 600 million,” Public Relations Manager at the Animal Humane Society, Mary Tan said.

The most common use for animals is companionship, whether it is a family pet or to fight loneliness.

“Pets help combat feelings of loneliness by simply being a physical presence that demands routine, accountability, and consistency through feeding, playtime and general overall care. They require movement and care that often increases personal motivation and self-care habits,” said Prairie Conlon, LPC, NCC and clinical director of CertaPet, an online platform connecting patients with mental health professionals who know the mental and physical benefits of a pet.

Pets can also give people a sense of purpose in chaotic times.

“It’s been keeping me in a routine, and it’s a bright light in a dark, crummy time,” Behavior Interventionist ParaProfessional Molly Haglin said.

Because the mental health needs of people vary on a regular basis, during the pandemic it is no different. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that it is important to do your research before adopting a pet and to make sure it is the right one for you and your family.

“Doing your research is super important because then you can find which pet is right for you,” Marketing and Communications Specialist at North Hennepin Community College Sara Mitchell said.

The CDC explains the health benefits of owning a pet. They can increase opportunities to exercise, go for walks, get outside, and socialize with others. Walking or staying active with pets decreases blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels. Most households in the United States have at minimum, one pet.

“I just got my puppy a couple of days ago. I’m looking forward to going for walks and playing with him,” Freshman Maddie Johnson said.

The Animal Humane Society is one of the top animal shelters in Minnesota. Over the past decade, the Animal Humane Society’s placement rates for pets have increased largely, from 59 percent in 2007 to about 93 percent in 2020. The data below shows animal placement, with a total of 17,179 pets placed.

(Animal Humane Society)

(Animal Humane Society)

“I would definitely be a proponent of adopting or going to a rescue because there are so many animals and shelters that need to be saved. There are so many animals that need a loving home,” Marketing and Adult Program Coordinator at Orono Schools Olivia Gephart said.