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Summit Addresses Positive Impact Pets Have on Social Isolation


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Loneliness is reaching epidemic levels, according to Mars Petcare and the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), which is why the companies recently held its first Summit on Social Isolation, Loneliness and Companion Animals. The summit gathered leaders in public health, research, psychology, gerontology and veterinary medicine to discuss the impact of pets and how they affect people struggling with social isolation and loneliness.

“For our health and our work, it is imperative we address the loneliness epidemic quickly and on many evidence-based fronts,” said Vivek Murthy, MD, the 19th U.S. Surgeon General. “I hope this Summit and its working groups will inspire more and different efforts to address loneliness and social isolation through pet interactions and ultimately help make a profound difference for the millions affected.”

Market research, conducted by Edelman Intelligence on behalf of HABRI and Mars Petcare, reinforces the impact pets have on addressing social isolation and loneliness. Specifically, 80 percent of pet owners said their pet makes them feel less lonely.

When it comes to both pet owners and nonpet owners, 85 percent of respondents believed interaction with a companion animal can help reduce loneliness and 76 percent agreed human-animal interactions can help address social isolation. Further, pet owners with the closest bond to their pet saw the highest positive impact on their feelings of loneliness and social isolation, according to the survey.

“Scientific research shows that pets have a positive impact on our health and well-being,” said Steven Feldman, HABRI executive director. “The insights from this research further highlight how the human-animal bond can play a role in helping to alleviate loneliness and social isolation.”

Other findings:

About 26 percent of pet owners stated they got a pet because they knew it is good for mental health, with respondents aged 55-plus doing so more frequently (55 percent).

  • Fifty-four percent of respondents said that their pet helps them connect with other people.
  • Half of respondents (51 percent) said their pet helps them feel less shy.
  • Nine in 10 people aged 55-plus believe pets can help older adults feel less lonely.
  • About 73 percent of those surveyed believed nursing homes and assisted-living facilities have a degree of responsibility to foster pet interaction.

To maximize the benefits of the stated correlation, many people feel society needs to encourage acceptance and expand access for pets, according to HABRI and McLean, Va.-based Mars Petcare. For example, the survey showed that people believe government—both state (41 percent) and federal (38 percent)—have a degree of responsibility to foster human-animal interaction. Many professionals feel this represents an opportunity for new, innovative partnerships that harness the power of pets to improve society, HABRI and Mars Petcare further noted.

“We know pets improve our lives in many ways, including providing companionship and bringing people together,” said Nancy Gee, Ph.D., human-animal interaction research manager, Waltham Center for Pet Nutrition, a brand of Mars Petcare. “It’s our hope that one day evidence-based methods can become common practice in schools, hospitals and other therapy settings. Driven by science, we hope to enable and encourage experts who work with people facing loneliness and social isolation to consider facilitating animal interaction as a way to help address the issue.

The HABRI and Mars Petcare study consisted of a national 30-minute online questionnaire. It was conducted among 2,036 respondents, including 1,469 pet owners (72 percent).

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