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Family Bonds with Pets and Mental Health during COVID-19 in Australia: A Complex Picture

By S. K. Bennetts, T. Howell, S. Crawford, F. Burgemeister, K. Burke, J. M. Nicholson

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The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn attention to the health-promoting features of human-animal relationships, particularly for families with children. Despite this, the World Health Organization's (1986) Ottawa Charter remains human-centric. Given the reciprocal health impacts of human-animal relationships, this paper aims to (i) describe perceived pet-related benefits, worries, and family activities; and to (ii) examine differences in perceived benefits, worries, and activities for parents and children with and without clinical mental health symptoms. We recruited 1034 Australian parents with a child < 18 years and a cat or dog via a national online survey between July and October 2020. Most parents reported their pet was helpful for their own (78%) and their child's mental health (80%). Adjusted logistic regression revealed parents with clinical psychological distress were 2.5 times more likely to be worried about their pet's care, well-being, and behaviour (OR = 2.56, p < 0.001). Clinically anxious children were almost twice as likely to live in a family who engages frequently in pet-related activities (e.g., cooked treats, taught tricks, OR = 1.82, p < 0.01). Mental health and perceived benefits of having a pet were not strongly associated. Data support re-framing the Ottawa Charter to encompass human-animal relationships, which is an often-neglected aspect of a socioecological approach to health.

Date 2023
Publication Title Int J Environ Res Public Health
Volume 20
Issue 7
ISBN/ISSN 1661-7827 (Print)1660-4601
DOI 10.3390/ijerph20075245
Author Address Judith Lumley Centre, School of Nursing and Midwifery, La Trobe University, Bundoora, VIC 3086, Australia.Intergenerational Health Group, Murdoch Children's Research Institute, Parkville, VIC 3052, Australia.Anthrozoology Research Group, School of Psychology and Public Health, La Trobe University, Bendigo, VIC 3552, Australia.Metro North Mental Health, Metro North Health, Herston, QLD 4029, Australia.
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animals
  2. Australia
  3. Children
  4. Companion
  5. Covid-19
  6. Dogs
  7. Health Promotion
  8. Human-animal relationships
  9. Humans
  10. Mental disorders
  11. Mental health and well-being
  12. open access
  13. Pandemics
  14. Pets and companion animals
  1. open access