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Australian researchers have studied how the love of a pet can adversely affect our mental health.
The study, conducted by University of Adelaide and La Trobe University, explored the relationship between the human-animal bond and human social support and how this impacted well-being and resilience.
The researchers where testing the theory that pets ‘have been shown to provide a buffering effect in times of adversity for those with mental health conditions’.
The researchers, Lian Hill, Helen Winefield and Pauleen Bennett, polled around 400 pet owners and 146 non-owners and found that for most people having a pet didn’t increase their resilience but it becomes more complex if the bond is either extremely strong or extremely week.
The study found that having an extreme human-animal bond can act as a substitute for certain aspects of human interaction, such as emotional connections and support, and therefore reduce a person’s capacity to build resilience and work through adversity.
‘Those with exceptionally strong bonds with their pet may develop negative mental health outcomes resulting in isolation and reduced social contact or engagement in self-care activities,’ the report concluded.
‘For example, that might apply when they are forced to relinquish their pet due to public housing policy, or alternatively not be able to leave home if they fear separation from their pet or for their pets’ health.’
The study also found that the inverse is true, and mental health can be adversely affected if there is no bond.
‘Individuals who have inadvertently come to care for a pet through relinquishment from family members or friends and have an particularly weak relationship with the pet, yet feel compelled to care for the pet, may experience pressures of continued care that can negatively impact on mental health.’
The researchers said future research should study health and mental health are impacted by the number of pets owned and pet selection biases.
Editor’s note: This article was published originally in The Lead.
Image credit: Karsten Winegeart