Major life events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, affect psychological and physiological health. Social support, or the lack thereof, can modulate these effects. The context of the COVID-19 pandemic offered a unique opportunity to better understand how dogs may provide social support for their owners and buffer heightened symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression and contribute to happiness during a major global crisis. Participants (768 pet dog owners and 767 potential pet dog owners) answered an online survey, including validated depression, anxiety, happiness psychometric scales, attitude to and commitment towards pet, and perceived social support.
Potential pet dog owners were defined as individuals who did not own a dog at the time of the survey but would be very or extremely interested in owning one in the future. Dog owners reported having significantly more social support available to them compared to potential dog owners, and their depression scores were also lower, compared to potential dog owners. There were no differences in anxiety and happiness scores between the two groups. Dog owners had a significantly more positive attitude towards and commitment to pets.
Taken together, our results suggest that dog ownership may have provided people with a stronger sense of social support, which in turn may have helped buffer some of the negative psychological impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.