How Dogs and Cats Can Help Tackle Loneliness

17 JUNE 2021

As part of Loneliness Awareness Week 2021, we at Battersea wanted to take a moment to recognise the positive impact that pets can have on our mental health and in tackling loneliness.

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Getting you out of the house

More UK households have a dog than any other kind of pet and, for many Brits, a house just wouldn’t be a home without a dog. For those of us that love dogs, the benefits are clear. Dogs need regular time outdoors, which has a positive impact on our physical health as well as reducing the risks of social isolation. In this way, not only does a dog offer companionship to its owners, but it can also open up new opportunities to meet other dog lovers.

Getting pets into the house

In 2018 Battersea launched the landmark Pet Friendly Properties campaign with a research report that outlined the huge advantages that pet ownership can bring. For example, our report discovered that pet owners are 60% more likely than non–pet owners to get to know people in their neighbourhoods, thereby reducing social isolation.

Company in times of need

As founding members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cats, Battersea helped to produce a 2020 report on how cat ownership in particular can alleviate loneliness. The report reflected several powerful examples, such as at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability in Putney. Staff at the hospital felt that some patients being treated for profound brain injuries would benefit from having a cat around. Battersea had just the solution – a friendly cat named Sox. Sox settled in quickly and has brought real happiness to many patients and staff.

The report concluded that contact with animals can bring great benefits to people at risk of social isolation and that further research is needed into the implications of this for different cohorts, with cats as well as other types of pets.

What comes next

In the future, we could see the benefits interactions with animals bring being promoted by Government and the NHS. Blue Cross’s 2020 report on pets and mental health suggested that mental health professionals should be trained in basic animal welfare and recommended collaboration between animal welfare organisations and mental health professionals.

Some suggestions include, when healthcare professionals, social services, Local Authorities and Clinical Commissioning Groups assess vulnerable people, that they could take access to pets into account. In cases when being around animals would bring clear benefits, the opportunity to keep a pet, or even just have contact with animals, could be supported.

Getting the benefits

Even without this formal role, it’s clear to most pet owners that pets can do wonders for our mental health. This has been particularly keenly felt for many people over the last year during the COVID-19 pandemic and during extended periods of lockdown and isolation.

If you feel that your own household could benefit from a new companion, why not read more about rehoming a dog or a cat from Battersea? You can also find out more about our pet friendly properties campaign here, which aims to make pet ownership available to more people.

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