The Influence of Human–Animal Interactions on Mental and Physical Health during the First COVID-19 Lockdown Phase in the U.K.: A Qualitative Exploration

Emily Shoesmith, Lion Shahab, Dimitra Kale, Daniel S. Mills, Catherine Reeve, Paul Toner, Luciana Santos de Assis, Elena Ratschen

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Abstract

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic presents an opportunity to explore the role of animals as sources of emotional and physical support during a period when most of the population is experiencing social and environmental challenges. We investigated how companion animal owners perceived the influence of human–animal interaction on their physical and mental health during the first COVID-19 lockdown phase in the U.K., and what concerns they had regarding their animals at this time. We also explored the impact of participants’ interaction with non-companion animals during this phase. A cross-sectional online survey of U.K. residents aged over 18 was conducted between April and June 2020. The final item of the survey invited open-ended free-text responses, allowing participants to describe any experiences and/or perceptions of their human–animal relationships during the COVID-19 lockdown phase. A qualitative thematic analysis of responses was undertaken. Four main themes related to the following aspects of human–animal interactions during the COVID-19 lockdown phase were identified: the positive impact of animal ownership during the COVID-19 lockdown (e.g., amelioration of wellbeing and mental health), concerns relating to animal ownership during the COVID-19 lockdown (e.g., concerns over animals carrying the COVID-19 virus), grief and loss of an animal during the COVID-19 lockdown and the impact of engaging with non-companion animals during the COVID-19 lockdown. The findings complement and extend previous insights into the impact of human–animal interaction with both companion and non-companion animals. They also highlight the challenges of caring for an animal during the lockdown phase and indicate the need to consider the development of further targeted support strategies, such as “day care” for the companion animals of key workers in this context.
Original languageEnglish
Article number976
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Volume18
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jan 2021

Keywords

  • human–animal interaction
  • human–animal relationships
  • companion animals
  • non-companion animals
  • COVID-19
  • mental health
  • wellbeing
  • loneliness
  • social isolation
  • lockdown

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