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Parent and child mental health during COVID-19 in Australia: The role of pet attachment

By Shannon K. Bennetts, Sharinne B. Crawford, Tiffani J. Howell, Fiona Burgemeister, Catherine Chamberlain, Kylie Burke, Jan M. Nicholson

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Restrictions, social isolation, and uncertainty related to the global COVID-19 pandemic have disrupted the ways that parents and children maintain family routines, health, and wellbeing. Companion animals (pets) can be a critical source of comfort during traumatic experiences, although changes to family routines, such as those caused by COVID-19, can also bring about challenges like managing undesirable pet behaviours or pet-human interactions. We aimed to examine the relationship between pet attachment and mental health for both parents and their children during the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia. A total of 1,034 parents living with a child under 18 years and a cat or dog completed an online cross-sectional survey between July and October 2020. Path analysis using multivariate linear regression was conducted to examine associations between objective COVID-19 impacts, subjective worry about COVID-19, human-pet attachment, and mental health. After adjusting for core demographic factors, stronger pet-child attachment was associated with greater child anxiety (parent-reported, p < .001). Parent-pet attachment was not associated with self-reported psychological distress (p = .42), however, parents who reported a strong emotional closeness with their pet reported greater psychological distress (p = .002). Findings highlight the role of pets during times of change and uncertainty. It is possible that families are turning to animals as a source of comfort, during a time when traditional social supports are less accessible. Alternatively, strong pet attachment is likely to reflect high levels of empathy, which might increase vulnerability to psychological distress. Longitudinal evidence is required to delineate the mechanisms underpinning pet attachment and mental health.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2022
Publication Title PLoS One
Volume 17
Issue 7
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0271687
Language English
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal roles
  2. Attachment
  3. Australia
  4. Covid-19
  5. open access
  6. peer-reviewed
  7. Pets and companion animals
  1. open access
  2. peer-reviewed