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Depression, loneliness, and pet attachment in homebound older adult cat and dog owners

Authors:
  • I.E.A.P./I.E.T., Inst. for applied Ethology and Animal Psychology

Abstract

Background: Companion animals may reduce depression and loneliness in socially isolated homebound older adults. However, whether owning a cat or dog is more beneficial in this population remains unknown. Materials and Methods: Pet attachment and the levels of depressive symptoms and loneliness were examined in 39 homebound older adults who exclusively owned a cat(s) or a dog(s). Cat owners (n = 12) and dog owners (n=27) were assessed for depressive symptoms (Geriatric Depression Scale-Short Form), loneliness (R-UCLA Loneliness Scale), and attachment to pets (Likert scale). Results: Cat owners reported significantly lower levels of depressive symptoms than dog owners (t= 2.12; p = 0.04). There were no significant differences between cat owners and dog owners in regards to levels of loneliness (t = -0.83; p = 0.41). Both cat owners and dog owners reported a high level of attachment to pets (Median=10 of 10). Conclusions: Although this study provides preliminary evidence that owning a cat to which one is attached is associated with lower levels of depressive symptoms than owning a dog to which one is attached in homebound older adults, the findings should be replicated with longitudinal studies. Findings from such studies may assist homebound older adults in selecting either a cat or dog as a companion pet.
Journal of Mind and Medical Sciences
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Lisa Boss
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Depression, loneliness, and pet aachment in homebound older adult cat
and dog owners
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J Mind Med Sci. 2017; 4(1): 38-48
doi: 10.22543/7674.41.P3848
Correspondence should be addressed to: Sandy Branson, UTHealth School of Nursing, Department of Nursing
Systems, 6901 Bertner Ave., Ste. 724, Houston TX 77030; email: sandra.m.branson@uth.tmc.edu
Research Article
Depression, loneliness, and pet attachment in
homebound older adult cat and dog owners
Sandy M. Branson1, Lisa Boss1, Stanley Cron1, Dennis C. Turner2
1UTHealth School of Nursing, Department of Nursing Systems, Houston, Texas
2Institute for Applied Ethology and Animal Psychology, Seestrasse 254. CH-8810 Horgen/ Switzerland
Keywords:
older adults, cat, depression, dog, loneliness, pet attachment
Abstract
Branson SM. et al.
39
Introduction
Multiple mental and physical comorbid health
conditions prevent homebound older adults from leaving
their homes (1). As such, homebound older adults are
socially isolated and at significant risk for loneliness and
depression (1, 2). While existing interventions promote
social integration and activities outside the home for
older adults, most homebound older adults are
functionally disabled, which limits their opportunity to
participate in activities outside the home. Although
human social support and companionship for socially
isolated older adults may be limited, companion pets
may reduce depression and loneliness by providing
nonhuman social support (3) and companionship (4) that
satisfies social needs (5). However, whether owning a
cat or dog is associated with less loneliness and
depression in this population remains unknown.
Depression and Pets
Depression is a serious mental illness associated
with physical and functional disability (6), increased
mortality (7) and formalized care placement (8). Major
depressive disorder is characterized by depressed mood
(feeling sad or empty), diminished interest or pleasure,
weight loss, sleep dysregulation, changes in appetite or
weight, psychomotor agitation or retardation, fatigue,
feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt,
problems with concentration and/or thoughts of death
(9). Chronic medical conditions, multiple losses,
functional decline, and social isolation render
homebound older adults at risk for depression (10). As
such, approximately 13%-29% of homebound older
adults are diagnosed with depression (11, 12).
In a meta-analysis that included five studies, four of
which included dogs only, Souter and Miller concluded
that animal-assisted interventions were significantly
associated with reduced depressive symptoms with a
moderate level of effect (13). In a separate study,
researchers investigated the effects of cats on depression
and showed that the presence of a cat, as well as
interacting with a cat, reduced negative moods of
depression in a non-clinical, presumably healthy
population of adult cat owners but did not increase
“good moods” (14, 15, 16). To our knowledge, no
studies have compared homebound older adult cat
owners and dog owners in regards to depression, and
studies among older community-dwelling cat and dog
owners have reported mixed results.
In a secondary analysis of a study that examined
159 community-dwelling older womenin the United
States who were attached to their pets (17), dog owners
had significantly higher levels of depressed mood than
cat owners (18). Conversely, Enmarker, Helzén, Ekker,
and Berg investigated 12,093 rural-dwelling older adult
pet owners (men and women) in Norway who
participated in a population survey and found that cat
owners reported higher mean values of depression
symptoms than dog owners (19). In the Norway study,
older men who owned cats reported less depressive
symptoms than older women who owned cats, but this
same relationship was not found among dog owners.
Differences in study populations and study variables
make the U.S. and Norway studies difficult to compare.
The U.S. study included women with moderate to high
levels of pet attachment, whereas the Norway study
examined both genders and did not examine the impact
of pet attachment on depression outcomes. Disparate
findings between the two studies may suggest gender-
specific differences in depression outcomes among pet
owners, more specifically among cat owners. What
remains to be established is whether cat ownership or
dog ownership is associated with less depression in older
adults who are functionally disabled and unable to leave
Depression, Loneliness, Pet Attachment in Homebound Cat & Dog Owners
40
their homes and whether depression outcomes vary by
gender in this population.
Loneliness and Pets
Loneliness is characterized as an aversive
emotional state related to the perception of unfulfilled
intimate and social needs (20) that may emerge from a
lack of intimacy or companionship (21). Negative
implications of loneliness are extensive and are
associated with increased functional decline (22), an
increased number of physician visits (23), an increased
likelihood of formalized care placement (24), and a
greater risk for all-cause mortality (25). Owing to social
isolation and fewer emotional connections, homebound
older adults are at risk for loneliness (26, 27).
Peplau and Perlman suggested surrogate
relationships with pets may help older adults cope with
loneliness (20). Researchers investigatingolder adult
primary care patients found that pet owners reported less
loneliness than non-pet owners, and those living alone
without a pet had the greatest odds of reporting
loneliness (28). Gulick and Krause-Parello compared
levels of loneliness among older women who primarily
resided in senior living community settings or attended
senior community activities and found no statistically
significant differences in levels of loneliness between cat
owners and dog owners (18). However, whether owning
a cat or dog is associated with less loneliness in socially
isolated homebound older adults has not been explored.
Attachment to Pets
Companion pets provide compassion, pleasure, and
affection and respond with unconditional love (29).
People who are attached to their pets often consider their
pets significant family members (30). Affectional bonds
with pets are emotionally significant relationships
because pets are nonjudgmental members of social
networks that provide owners with feelings of being
cared for, beliefs that one is loved and valued, and the
sense of belonging to a reciprocal network (31, 32).
Although few studies have measured the impact of
pet attachment on loneliness and depression, Krause-
Parello found that the level of loneliness and the degree
of attachment to dogs and cats were significantly and
positively related in older women (17). The author
concluded that as loneliness increased for older women,
pet attachment also increased. In a secondary analysis of
the same study, pet attachment support mediated the
effects between loneliness and depressed mood. The
author concluded that support from a pet assisted older
community-dwelling women in coping with loneliness
and depressed mood (33). Thus, existing evidence
suggests the importance of evaluating pet attachment
when examining loneliness and depression in pet
owners.
Materials and Methods
The aim of the current cross-sectional study was to
compare differences in the levels of depressive
symptoms and loneliness and pet attachment between
homebound older adults who owned a cat(s) or dog(s).
Study Design
The current study was part of a larger cross-
sectional study (N=88) that compared homebound older
adult pet owners and non-pet owners (34). Because the
purpose of the current study was to determine whether a
cat or dog was more beneficial in terms of loneliness and
depression, the analysis of the current study included
participants who exclusively owned a dog(s) or cat(s)
but no other pets. Thirty-nine homebound older adult cat
owners (n=12) and dog owners (n=27) were compared
according to their levels of pet attachment, depressive
symptoms, and loneliness using self-report
questionnaires. Prior to data collection, the study was
approved by the university’s Committee for the
Protection of Human Subjects and granted exemption by
the university’s Animal Welfare Committee.
Branson SM. et al.
41
Sample and Setting
Homebound older adults who were enrolled in the
Meals on Wheels (MOW) Senior Nutrition Plan in a
rural county in the Southern United States were recruited
for voluntary participation in the parent study. MOW
recipients must be at least 60 years old and have a
functional disability that prevents them from leaving the
home (35). The inclusion and exclusion criteria for the
parent study were previously reported (34). Briefly, the
participants were MOW recipients who were able to
complete instruments in English, did not have a
neurodegenerative disease, and were not taking
hormones or corticosteroids.
Instruments
Depressive symptoms were measured using the
GDS Short Form, a 15-item instrument designed to
screen for depressive symptoms (e.g., somatic
complaints, cognitive complaints, motivation, future/past
orientation, self-image, loss, agitation, obsessive traits,
and mood) in older adults (36). The GDS Short Form
has been used extensively in healthy and cognitively
impaired community-dwelling older adults. Scores range
from 0 to 15, and higher scores indicate more depressive
symptoms (36, 37). GDS Short Form scores greater than
5 indicate an optimal cutoff for the detection of major
depression, with a sensitivity of 71.8% and specificity of
78.2% in older adults receiving home health care when
compared with the gold standard assessment with the
Structured Clinical Interview for the Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV (38). The
GDS Short Form is a reliable instrument, as
demonstrated by a Cronbach’s alpha of .81 in the current
study.
Loneliness was measured with the R-UCLA, a
commonly used instrument measuring the frequency and
intensity of social isolation and dissatisfaction with
one’s social interactions (39). The questionnaire
comprises 10 positively worded items and 10 negatively
worded items. Scores range from 20 to 80, and higher
scores indicate higher levels of loneliness. The
instrument is considered reliable across various
populations (39), and in the current study, Cronbach’s
alpha was .89.
Attachment to companion pets was assessed by a 10-
point Likert scale, rather than one of the standard
multivariate pet attachment measures (e.g., the
Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale), because other
multivariate pet attachment scales have been criticized as
unreliable when comparing attachment levels between
dog owners and cat owners (40, 41). Participants were
asked to rate their attachment to their favorite cat or dog
from 0 to 10, with higher scores indicating a higher level
of attachment.
Data Collection
Participants were recruited via flyers delivered by
MOW volunteers with the daily home-delivered meal.
The flyer invited participants who met the inclusion
criteria to call the researchers directly and schedule an
appointment for informed consent and data collection.
The researchers met the participant at the participant’s
home, obtained informed consent, and subsequently
collected demographic and psychosocial data by self-
report from the participant. Participants were allowed to
have a spouse or other representative present during
consent and data collection and were allowed to re-
schedule data collection if necessary. A $10 incentive
was provided for participation.
Data Analysis
Descriptive statistics were computed for
demographic variables by group (cat ownership/dog
ownership). An exact version of the chi-squared (χ2) test
was used to account for the small sample size and
examine statistical differences between groups for
categorical demographic data. A t-test for independent
samples was conducted to test differences in outcomes
Depression, Loneliness, Pet Attachment in Homebound Cat & Dog Owners
42
between cat owners and dog owners. A multiple linear
regression model was used to compare depression by pet
type and gender and determine whether the difference by
pet type varies by gender using the interaction term (Pet
Type X Gender). Assumptions of the respective
statistical tests were met. Statistical analyses were
conducted using SAS 9.4 for Windows, and an alpha
level of ≤ 0.05 was considered significant.
Results
Characteristics of the Sample
The mean age of the total sample was 76 +/- 9
years, ranging from 62 to 95 years (72% female, 100%
white, 41% married, and 59% widowed, divorced or
single). As shown in Table 1, no statistically significant
differences were found between dog owners and cat
owners in age, gender, marital status, and education
level.
Depressive Symptoms, Loneliness, and Attachment
to Pets
Cat owners reported significantly fewer depressive
symptoms than dog owners (Table 2; t= 2.12; p = 0.04).
No significant difference was found between cat owners
and dog owners in loneliness (t = -0.83; p = 0.41) or
attachment to pets (t = -0.21, p = 0.84). Table 3 shows
descriptive statistics by gender for each type of pet
owned, with depression (GDS-SF scores) as the outcome
variable. Among cat owners, the men had a lower mean
depression score than the women. As noted in Table 4,
the multiple linear regression model indicated a
significant difference in depression score by pet type (p
= 0.04), but not by gender (p = 0.31). In addition, the
interaction term (Pet Type X Gender) was not
statistically significant (p = 0.26), which indicates the
difference in depression scores by the type of pet owned
did not vary significantly between men and women.
Table 1. Characteristics of cat and dog owners (N = 39).
Cat Owners
n=12 (22%)
M (SD)
n (%)
Dog Owners
n=27 (78%)
M (SD)
n (%)
t Value or
Chi-Square
Value
p value
Age (years)
77.67 (9.35)
74.63 (8.35)
- 1.01
0.32
Gender
1.55
0.26
Males
5 (42%)
6 (22%)
Females
7 (58%)
21 (78%)
Marital status
0.42
0.73
Married
4 (33%)
12 (44%)
Widowed, Divorced, Single
8 (67%)
15 (56%)
Education (years)
11.58 (2.02)
12.07 (2.13)
0.67
0.50
Note: SD = Standard deviation, M = Mean.
Branson SM. et al.
43
Table 2. Differences between cat and dog owners in depression and loneliness (N=39)
Cat Owners
N=12 (22%)
Dog Owners
N=27 (78%)
t Value
p value
Effect size
(Cohen’s d)
Depression
(GDS-SF)
3.33 (2.84)
5.72 (3.40)
2.12
0.04
0.76
Loneliness (R-
UCLA)
43.17 (9.86)
39.71 (12.87)
- 0.83
0.41
0.30
Pet Attachment
(Likert Scale)
9.38 (1.23)
9.24 (2.05)
-0.21
0.84
0.08
Note:GDS-SF = Geriatric Depression Scale Short Form, R-UCLA = Revised University of California
Los Angeles Loneliness Scale
Table 3. Descriptive statistics by gender for each type of pet owned with depression (GDS-SF
scores) as the outcome variable (N=39)
Pet Type
Gender
N
Mean
Std. Dev
Dog Owner
Female
21
5.69
3.36
Male
6
5.83
3.87
Cat Owner
Female
7
4.43
2.70
Male
5
1.80
2.49
Table 4. Results from multiple linear regression model that compares depression (GDS-SF) by pet
type (cat or dog owner) and gender (N=39)
Source
DF
Type III SS
Mean Square
F Value
Pr > F
Pet Type (Cat or Dog Owner)
1
50.33
50.33
4.77
0.04
Gender
1
11.09
11.09
1.05
0.31
Pet Type X Gender
1
13.79
13.79
1.31
0.26
Discussion
Despite our small sample of homebound older
adults, significant differences were found in the level of
depressive symptoms between cat and dog owners, with
cat owners reporting fewer depressive symptoms. Our
findings agree with those reported by Gulick and
Krause-Parello, who found the level of depressive
symptoms between attached cat owners and dog owners
were significantly different, with cat owners reporting
lower levels of depressed mood than dog owners (18).
Although the reasons for why older adults in both
studies who owned cats had lower depressive symptoms
Depression, Loneliness, Pet Attachment in Homebound Cat & Dog Owners
44
than those who owned dogs are not clear, one plausible
explanation is that cats are independent, which renders
them low maintenance, and thus provide great pleasure
and feelings of worthiness. For example, a cat does not
require training and exercise, factors that may make cat
ownership more emotionally satisfying and less
physically demanding than dog ownership for older
adults, especially for those who are disabled.
Alternatively, however, it is possible that older adults
with more depressive symptoms seek out dogs (who tend
to be naturally social), more so than cats (who tend to be
less social), to be more socially engaged and deal with
depressive symptoms.
Our finding that cat owners reported less depressive
symptoms than dog owners contradict findings from the
Norway population study, in which cat owners reported
higher levels of depression symptoms than dog owners
(19). However, both studies were similar in that men
who owned cats (but not dog owners) reported less
depressive symptoms than women who owned cats. Our
study lacked statistical significance that would indicate
that the difference in depression scores by the type of pet
varied between men and women; however, the lack of a
statistically significant difference in our study was due in
part to the small sample size, which reduced the power
of the interaction term. As such, future studies that
evaluate the impact of gender on depression outcomes
are needed, specifically among cat owners.
Although differences and similarities were found
between the Norway study and our study, comparing the
findings is difficult because participants in our study
were functionally disabled older adults who were mostly
women, whereas participants in the Norway study were
from the general population (functional limitations were
not reported) with similar representations of men and
women. Given inconsistent findings between the two
studies on depression outcomes between cat and dog
owners, further exploration is needed that investigates
differential emotional responses to pets that may vary
according to an older person’s gender, functional ability,
and living situation.
Pet attachment provides mutual pleasure and a
source of emotional support (42). Attachment figures
that provide attachment relationships are needed
throughout all phases of life; however, attachment
relationships may be limited for older adults owing to a
loss of family members and friends (43). The high level
of attachment to both cats and dogs in our study suggests
the importance of having a pet, regardless of the type of
pet, in an isolated and vulnerable homebound older adult
population. Additional studies are needed to compare
our findings with other homebound older adults. We
used a 0-10 visual analog scale to assess pet attachment
to minimize the potential pet species-specific bias on
existing scales (41). However, the reliability and validity
of using a visual analog scale needs to be further
explored.
Scores on the R-UCLA Loneliness Scale indicated
a moderate level of loneliness in both cat and dog
owners with no significant differences between the types
of pet owners. However, our study had a small sample,
which limited the likelihood of finding differences in
levels of loneliness. Weiss (described social loneliness
as a lack of social integration; owning cats and dogs may
not improve social integration for homebound older
adults but may decrease emotional loneliness by
improving attachment relationships (44). The R-UCLA
Loneliness Scale that was used in the current study is
considered a unidimensional measure of loneliness and
may have limited the capacity to assess the different
aspects of loneliness (45, 46). Another instrument, the
De Jong Gierveld Loneliness Scale, may have been a
Branson SM. et al.
45
more sensitive instrument to determine differences
between pet-attachment relationships of cat and dog
owners owing to the instrument’s multidimensional
design that measures both social and emotional
typologies of loneliness (47).
Our sample was small and comprised primarily
white women who lived in a rural setting; thus, the
findings may not be generalizable to other homebound
older adults who own cats or dogs. Because of our small
sample size, the probability of finding a difference in
depressive and loneliness symptoms between cat owners
and dog owners when one exists in the population (i.e.,
power) was small. A small sample increases the
probability of type II error, or not finding a difference in
depressive symptoms when one exists in the population.
Although the GDS Short Form is considered a screening
tool for depressive symptoms and not diagnostic of
depression, cat owners reported levels of depressive
symptoms that were below the recommended level to
detect major depression. In comparison, dog owners
reported levels of depressive symptoms equivalent to
major depression (38). However, the level of depressive
symptoms for dog owners was minimally above the
cutoff score of > 5 to detect major depression. Thus,
differences in depressive symptoms between cat and dog
owners should be interpreted with precaution. Owing to
the cross-sectional methodology, fewer depressive
symptoms reported by cat owners when compared with
dog owners may be unrelated to owning a pet and may
be related to other factors. Additionally, whether the
relationship between cat ownership and few depressive
symptoms is causal or whether pet owners with
depression seek out dogs to alleviate depressive
symptoms is unknown.
Considering that up to 29% of homebound older
adults have major depression (11) and that cat ownership
was associated with fewer depressive symptoms, our
results have potential implications for the choice of pet
and potential benefits of cat ownership in homebound
older adults. Given the high prevalence of depression in
homebound older adults and the association of
depression with poor physical and mental health, cat
ownership may be beneficial for homebound older adults
(6-8, 48, 49). Programs that match older cats with older
adults may need to be considered for potential mental
health benefits in homebound older adults (50, 51).
Conclusions
Although this study provides preliminary evidence
that owning a cat to which one is attached is associated
with fewer depressive symptoms than owning a dog to
which one is attached in homebound older adults, the
findings should be replicated with longitudinal studies.
Future studies need to establish whether owning a cat
decreases depression and, if so, how cats alleviate
depression in homebound older adults. Likewise, future
studies need to establish whether homebound older
adults with depression select dogs as pets and, if so,
determine whether dogs assist homebound older adults
in dealing with depression. Findings from such studies
may assist homebound older adults in selecting either a
cat or dog as a companion pet.
Acknowledgements
We would like to posthumously acknowledge Dr.
Duck-Hee Kang who contributed to the conceptual
design of this study and the writing of the final
manuscript. We are grateful to the Meals on Wheels
Society of America for their participation. Funding for
this study was supported by the University of Texas
Health Science Center School of Nursing's Dean
Research Award funds.
Depression, Loneliness, Pet Attachment in Homebound Cat & Dog Owners
46
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... argued that it wasn't an issue since the population they examined was small as well. Gilbey and Tani (2015) argue that studies that underpowered stand "little chance of correctly identifying effects that truly exist" -that studies so small with such specific populations can't possibly be generalized to the greater population and are of little use. Branson et. al (2017), specifically, is a good example of this -the study's population was rural, disabled, over sixty, participating in meals on wheels, and included 72% female participants, 100% white participants, 12 cat owners, 27 dog owners, and 88 total participants. Such a sample represents little about the general population and is very heavily skewe ...
... A BRIEF METHODOLOGICAL REVIEW OF LONELINESS AND PET RESEARCH 6 A common conceptual scale used to determine loneliness is the UCLA or UCLA-R Loneliness scale. It is used in 15 of the 21 articles reviewed by Gilbey and Tani (2015). It is also used by Branson et. al (2017) and Rhoades and et. al (2014). Rhoades et. al (2014) Another recurring measurement issue found in multiple studies is the presence of data anomalies. Gilbey and Tani (2015) mention that "in all except one of the included studies" the data and its handling led to results that were questionable at best and deceptive when adjusted for at w ...
... them report significance where it seems unlikely to be or where there are data anomalies. This scale has historically been criticized for being unidirectional in nature and is often inappropriate in determining the difference between loneliness in owners of different kinds of pets relative to other tools like the De Jong Gierveld Loneliness Scale (Branson et. al, 2017). The only article reviewed that properly uses several different measurements to test the validity of its own findings is Crossman and Kazdin (2017); though this one does convert a multidimensional scale into a unidimensional scale in a way that A BRIEF METHODOLOGICAL REVIEW OF LONELINESS AND PET RESEARCH 7 might have skewed the data int ...
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This was a methodological update to a meta-analysis that was completed as part of a graduate research methodology course. There are several trends in the accumulated quantitative research conducted on companion animals, commonly referred to as pets, as they relate to elements of depression, loneliness and health in adults. In 2015, Gilbey and Tani conducted a literature review of research on pet ownership and loneliness up to that point and, in doing so, found that the majority of these studies suffer from three major weakening points that degrade their ability to inform other researchers as well as the general public on methods of treatment: cross-sectional designs, use of single, often unidimensional scales as means of measurement, and underpowered study populations that are not representative. This is generally consistent with research since conducted as well as research conducted near the time of writing that was not included or may have just missed being included. Keywords: Companion Animals, Pets, Loneliness, Depression, Methodological Review
... There is mixed evidence in the literature whether dog-cat ownership could reduce depression and loneliness (Gilbey et al. 2007). For older adults, there might be some protective effects of pet-owning (Branson et al. 2017). However, most of our sample is young or middle age. ...
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Depression is one of the major mental health problems in the world and the leading cause of disability worldwide. As people leave more and more digital traces in the online world, it becomes possible to detect depression-related behavior based on people’s online activities. We use a novel Facebook study to identify possible non-textual elements of depression-related behavior in a social media environment. This study focuses on the relationship between depression and the volume and composition of Facebook friendship networks and the volume and temporal variability of Facebook activities. We also tried to establish a link between depression and the interest categories of the participants. The significant predictors were partly different for cognitive-affective depression and somatic depression. Earlier studies found that depressed people have a smaller online social network. We found the same pattern in the case of cognitive-affective depression. We also found that they posted less in others’ timelines, but we did not find that they posted more in their own timeline. Our study was the first to use the Facebook ads interest data to predict depression. Those who were classified into the less interest category by Facebook had higher depression levels on both scales.
... therapy (Castelli, Hart, & Zasloff, 2001). For instance, studies have found that higher self-esteem was reported by dog owners compared to cat owners (Schulz et al., 2020), and cat owners reported lesser depressive symptoms as compared to dog owners (Branson et al., 2017). Thus, the choice of therapy animal is largely based on the type of problem the client has and the requirements of the client. ...
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... These results, pending further results of validity relevant research, support the use of the FBS in HAI and HAB research by veterinarians, social workers, psychologists, and others investigating the relationships between family bondedness and other relevant variables. These results also suggest the FBS addresses important limitations in HAI and HAB measurement scales discussed by Rodriguez et al. (32), and Branson et al. (47). The addressed limitations include evidence for measurement equivalence across different animal species, specifically cat and dogs; and the need for shortform scales. ...
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About 38.4% of U.S. households include a dog, and 25.4% a cat, as pets, and a recent poll suggested over 90% of pet owners feel their companion animal is a family member. Numerous studies have suggested pet ownership has physical, mental, and social health benefits, though much of this research has yielded mixed results. Results of a recent review suggested significant measurement problems in human-animal interaction (HAI) and human-animal bond (HAB) research, including the absence of validity evidence, overly long measures, lack of evidence for measurement equivalence across species of pets, and measures lacking a basis in important psychological, family, and attachment theories. This article describes the development and results of a measurement equivalence study of a new measure of the HAB called the family bondedness scale (FBS). This scale, and the research results, address multiple gaps in HAB measurement. Results of multi-group confirmatory factor analyses with multiple covariates indicated the scores on the FBS showed equivalence between cat and dog owners. The use of the FBS in both veterinary research and practice, as well as in research and practice in other disciplines, such as social work and psychology, are considered.
... Fear [23], frustration and boredom [24] coupled with a volatile climate of a pandemic and quarantine led to more incidences of pet abandonment and abuse [23], despite a World Organization for Animal Health statement declaring that no evidence suggests companion animals played any significant role in the spread of COVID-19 [25]. While existing studies explored how pets affect humans confined at home [26,27], there are no studies till date examining the mental health of pet owners during the pandemic amid tightening social distancing measures. Hence, we aim to examine the impact of pet ownership on physical activity and mental health during the lockdown phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in Singapore. ...
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... This is easy to understand because neither cats nor non-traditional pets need to be walked, and they can be fun for the elderly, especially in the time of full lockdown during the pandemic. In addition, there is evidence that homebound older adults who owned cats reported significantly lower levels of depression symptoms than dog owners ( Branson, Boss, Cron, & Turner, 2017 ). ...
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... Another study based on in-depth interviews of pet owners aged 75 years and over living in Australia found that cat owners tend to be more socially isolated than dog owners (41). However, one study from the United States investigating persons aged 60 years and more found that cat owners reported significantly fewer depressive symptoms than dog owners (42). ...
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... The limited number of studies that have investigated the effect of companion animal attachment specifically in adolescent populations report, almost exclusively, positive influences of companion animals on the emotional wellbeing of adolescents (for a review see Purewal et al., 2017). However, much of the extant research examining the relation between companion animal attachment and loneliness has focused on adult populations (e.g., Branson, Boss, Cron, & Turner, 2017;Duvall Antonacopoulos & Pychyl, 2010). One exception to this is Black's (2012) study examining the influence of companion animal attachment on loneliness in rural adolescents from two schools in southwest New Mexico. ...
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Pet ownership is the most common form of human–animal interaction, and anecdotally, pet ownership can lead to improved physical and mental health for owners. However, scant research is available validating these claims. This study aimed to review the recent peer reviewed literature to better describe the body of knowledge surrounding the relationship between pet ownership and mental health. A literature search was conducted in May 2020 using two databases to identify articles that met inclusion/exclusion criteria. After title review, abstract review, and then full article review, 54 articles were included in the final analysis. Of the 54 studies, 18 were conducted in the general population, 15 were conducted in an older adult population, eight were conducted in children and adolescents, nine focused on people with chronic disease, and four examined a specific unique population. Forty-one of the studies were cross-sectional, 11 were prospective longitudinal cohorts, and two were other study designs. For each of the articles, the impact of pet ownership on the mental health of owners was divided into four categories: positive impact (n = 17), mixed impact (n = 19), no impact (n = 13), and negative impact (n = 5). Among the reviewed articles, there was much variation in population studied and study design, and these differences make direct comparison challenging. However, when focusing on the impact of pet ownership on mental health, the results were variable and not wholly supportive of the benefit of pets on mental health. Future research should use more consistent methods across broader populations and the development of a pet-ownership survey module for use in broad, population surveys would afford a better description of the true relationship of pet ownership and mental health.
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In this study, the authors tested the relation between loneliness and subsequent admission to a nursing home over a 4-year time period in a sample of approximately 3,000 rural older Iowans. Higher levels of loneliness were found to increase the likelihood of nursing home admission and to decrease the time until nursing home admission. The influence of extremely high loneliness on nursing home admission remained statistically significant after controlling for other variables, such as age, education: income, mental status. physical health, morale, and social contact, that were also predictive of nursing horne admission, Several mechanisms are proposed to explain the link between extreme loneliness and nursing home admission. These include loneliness as a precipitant of declines in mental and physical health and nursing home placement as a strategy to gain social contact with others. Implications for preventative interventions are discussed.
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The development of an adequate assessment instrument is a necessary prerequisite for social psychological research on loneliness. Two studies provide methodological refinement in the measurement of loneliness. Study 1 presents a revised version of the self-report UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) Loneliness Scale, designed to counter the possible effects of response bias in the original scale, and reports concurrent validity evidence for the revised measure. Study 2 demonstrates that although loneliness is correlated with measures of negative affect, social risk taking, and affiliative tendencies, it is nonetheless a distinct psychological experience.
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Objectives: Older adults who report feelings of loneliness are at increased risk for a range of negative physical and mental health outcomes, including early mortality. Identifying potential sources of social connectedness, such as pet ownership, could add to the understanding of how to promote health and well-being in older adults. The aim of this study is to describe the association of pet ownership and loneliness. Method: The current study utilizes cross-sectional survey data from a sample (N = 830) of older adult primary care patients (age ≥ 60 years). Results: Pet owners were 36% less likely than non-pet owners to report loneliness, in a model controlling for age, living status (i.e., alone vs. not alone), happy mood, and seasonal residency (adjOR = 0.64, 95% CI = 0.41-0.98, p < 0.05). An interaction was found between pet ownership and living status (b = -1.60, p < 0.001) in which living alone and not owning a pet was associated with the greatest odds of reporting feelings of loneliness. Conclusion: The findings suggest that pet ownership may confer benefits for well-being, including attenuating feelings of loneliness and its related sequelae, among older adults who live alone.
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Homebound older adults are prone to depression, which is linked to systemic inflammation that promotes executive function decline. A companion animal may reduce the negative biobehavioral processes asso- ciated with depression, inflammation, and reduced executive function in homebound older adults. The primary aim of this study was to examine dif- ferences between homebound older adult pet owners and non-pet owners in depression, salivary C-reactive protein (CRP), and executive function. The secondary aim was to determine if the level of attachment to pets was as- sociated with depression, salivary CRP, and executive function. The study was cross-sectional and investigated homebound older adult pet owners and non-pet owners (n = 88) using psychometrically reliable and valid instru- ments (Geriatric Depression Scale Short Form and CLOX 1). Salivary CRP was assessed with immunoassay. Level of attachment to pets was measured using a Likert scale (0–10). Mean age for the total sample was 75 years (SD = 9). Forty-eight (55%) participants owned pets (56% dogs, 25% cats, 4% other pets, 15% both cats and dogs). Pet owners reported a high level of attachment to pets (Median = 10). Pet owners had significantly higher ex- ecutive function than non-pet owners (t = –2.07; p = 0.04) but there were no significant differences in executive function between cat owners and dog owners (t = 1.53; p = 0.14). Pet owners and non-pet owners were similar in depression (t = –1.80, p = 0.08) and salivary CRP levels (t = 0.27, p = 0.79). Level of attachment to pets was significantly and positively correlated with executive function (r = 0.30; p = 0.04) but was not significantly correlated with depression (r = 0.04, p = 0.77) or salivary CRP (r = –0.04, p = 0.80). Compared with non-pet owners, pet owners had better executive function but similar depression and salivary CRP levels. Reasons for these findings are unclear. Significant positive correlation be- tween pet attachment and executive function suggests further investigation in this area. Future studies with larger samples and a longitudinal design are needed to investigate the biobehavioral changes over time in relation to pet ownership, level of attachment to pets, and executive func- tion in homebound older adults.
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This exploratory study investigated how clients of a large urban veterinary center viewed the role of their pet in the family and how they compared this role to that of humans. In Phase 1, randomly selected clients (N = 201) completed a questionnaire containing scales delineating family relationships and pet attachment. Being either a man ora college graduate was associated with lesser feelings of psychological kinship and intimacy, both with pets and people. Neither living with a partner nor having a child affected the strength of pet relationships. In Phase 2, 16 participants from Phase I completed a social network instrument and answered questions about family roles and boundaries. Thirteen of the 16 respondents said that there were circumstances in which they would give a scarce drug to their pet in preference to a person outside the family.
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This article examines the growing body of research that provides support for the many anecdotally reported health benefits resulting from the human-animal bond, including the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases, cancer and chronic pain; benefits for paediatric and elderly patients and for early detection of medical conditions. The risk of zoonotic infections are also discussed.
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We aimed to determine whether loneliness is associated with higher health care utilization among older adults in the United States. We used panel data from the Health and Retirement Study (2008 and 2012) to examine the long-term impact of loneliness on health care use. The sample was limited to community-dwelling persons in the United States aged 60 years and older. We used negative binomial regression models to determine the impact of loneliness on physician visits and hospitalizations. Under 2 definitions of loneliness, we found that a sizable proportion of those aged 60 years and older in the United States reported loneliness. Regression results showed that chronic loneliness (those lonely both in 2008 and 4 years later) was significantly and positively associated with physician visits (β = 0.075, SE = 0.034). Loneliness was not significantly associated with hospitalizations. Loneliness is a significant public health concern among elders. In addition to easing a potential source of suffering, the identification and targeting of interventions for lonely elders may significantly decrease physician visits and health care costs. (Am J Public Health. Published online ahead of print March 19, 2015: e1-e7. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2014.302427).
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Despite their high rates of depression, homebound older adults have limited access to evidence-based psychotherapy. The purpose of this paper was to report both depression and disability outcomes of telehealth problem-solving therapy (tele-PST via Skype video call) for low-income homebound older adults over 6 months postintervention. A 3-arm randomized controlled trial compared the efficacy of tele-PST to in-person PST and telephone care calls with 158 homebound individuals who were aged 50+ and scored 15+ on the 24-item Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAMD). Treatment effects on depression severity (HAMD score) and disability (score on the WHO Disability Assessment Schedule [WHODAS]) were analyzed using mixed-effects regression with random intercept models. Possible reciprocal relationships between depression and disability were examined with a parallel-process latent growth curve model. Both tele-PST and in-person PST were efficacious treatments for low-income homebound older adults; however the effects of tele-PST on both depression and disability outcomes were sustained significantly longer than those of in-person PST. Effect sizes (dGMA-raw ) for HAMD score changes at 36 weeks were 0.68 for tele-PST and 0.20 for in-person PST. Effect sizes for WHODAS score changes at 36 weeks were 0.47 for tele-PST and 0.25 for in-person PST. The results also supported reciprocal and indirect effects between depression and disability outcomes. The efficacy and potential low cost of tele-delivered psychotherapy show its potential for easy replication and sustainability to reach a large number of underserved older adults and improve their access to mental health services.