The report, presented by our parent company, Mars Petcare, and the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), with support from a broad consortium of human health advocates, mental health practitioners, veterinarians and human-animal interaction researchers, focuses on expert recommendations from the first-ever Summit on Social Isolation and Companion Animals.
The report outlines the following approach to facilitate the role of human-animal interaction and pet ownership in addressing social isolation and loneliness:
1. Advance high-quality research: Advance human-animal interaction (HAI) research to better understand for whom and under what circumstances interactions with companion animals may be effective for alleviating social isolation and loneliness.
2. Help address barriers and provide solutions: Identify ways to remove barriers to access for pet ownership and human-animal interaction for those who may face hurdles and stand to benefit most – including older adults and people with mental health challenges.
3. Share and support best practices: Support and help advance best practices in HAI and for companion animal ownership that help prevent, reduce and mitigate social isolation and loneliness. Ensure animal-assisted interventions in approved settings – including hospitals, nursing homes and within our communities – are grounded in science, meet high standards of animal welfare, and have the broadest societal impact.
Loneliness currently affects 3 in 5 Americans and 9 million people in the United Kingdom. Loneliness can be as deadly as smoking 15 cigarettes per day, making it a serious threat to public health.
“There is increasing evidence that pets can play an important role in helping people feel less lonely and more socially connected,” said Steven Feldman, Executive Director, HABRI. “Together with the leadership of Mars Petcare and a group of other experts and stakeholders, HABRI will work to address the crisis of loneliness in our society with the power of the human-animal bond.”
Through the decade-long National Institutes of Health/Mars–WALTHAM™ Public-Private Partnership, researchers have been exploring the impact pet ownership and animal-assisted interventions can have on both people and pets. This work has helped this field to develop and has led to new research questions, which can help improve our understanding of the human-animal bond.
“We have a responsibility to take the scientific exploration further when evidence to date shows us that pets can be part of addressing such a significant societal issue,” commented Rena Crumplen, Global Vice President of Research and Development, Mars Petcare. “It’s important that we undertake rigorous studies to understand how companion animals may provide a benefit for those suffering from conditions associated with social isolation and loneliness.”
In 2019, experts in public health, research, psychology, gerontology, and veterinary medicine gathered for the first time to share good practices and discuss ways to advance human-animal interaction research so that animal-assisted interventions can become part of evidence-based public health policies to tackle social isolation.
Here are a few highlights from the event: