Social isolation and loneliness are increasing in our society. A survey1 by the Co-Op and the British Red Cross revealed over 9 million people in the UK of all ages are either always or often lonely. Research by Holt-Lunstad, Smith & Layton2 showed that the effect of loneliness and isolation on mortality is comparable to the impact of well-known risk factors such as obesity and has a similar influence as cigarette smoking.
Companion animals are great connectors between people3 and may help reduce feelings of social isolation and loneliness. The Consortium on Social Isolation and Companion Animals has published a report4, summarising their recent summit focused on this topic. A nationally representative survey5 of pet owners and non-pet owners in the USA, commissioned by HABRI and Mars Petcare to inform the summit, found that 85% of all respondents agreed interaction with pets can help reduce loneliness while 76% agreed human-pet interactions can help address social isolation. Of the pet owners, those with the closest bond to their pet saw the highest positive impact on their feelings of loneliness and social isolation.
The consortium has set itself three goals:
i) advance high quality, human-animal interaction research on this topic,
ii) help to address barriers to HAI and provide solutions; and
iii) share and support the proliferation of best practice.
- British Red Cross (2016) “Trapped in a Bubble” Report https://www.cooperative.coop/campaigning/loneliness
- Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB (2010) Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Med 7(7): e1000316. doi:10.1371/ journal.pmed.1000316
- Wood L, Martin K, Christian H, Nathan, A, Lauritsen, C, Houghton S, Kawachi I & McCune S (2015) The Pet Factor – Companion Animals as a Conduit for Getting to Know People, Friendship Formation and Social Support. PLoS ONE 10(4): e0122085. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0122085
- The Consortium on Social Isolation and Companion Animals(2019) Addressing the social isolation and loneliness epidemic with the power of companion animals https://habri.org/assets/uploads/Addressing-the-Social-Isolation-and-Loneliness-Epidemic-with-the-Power-of-Companion-Animals-Report.pdf
- HABRI & Mars Petcare (2019) A nationally representative survey of pet owners and non-pet-owners of the role pets and human-animal interaction can play in addressing social isolation and loneliness https://habri.org/research/mental-health/social-isolation/