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PSYCHOSOCIAL BENEFITS

Having a pet is associated with many benefits for mental health, including the reduction of depressive symptoms through the increase of feelings of happiness, attachment and usefulness, emotional support, and stress reduction.

Psychosociaux

INCREASED FEELING OF HAPPINESS

Pets can have a positive effect on feelings of happiness. A study shows that dog owners feel joy when they go for a walk with their dog.

 

It is important to mention that the participants in this study affirm that their dog is the central element that makes them happy, and not the fact that they are surrounded by nature or exercising.

 

Pets can also have a positive effect on reducing the risk of depression. For example, in adults aged 65 and over, owning a pet is inversely related to depression. A study in an immunosuppressed population (specifically patients with HIV) suggests that dog owners are three times less likely to develop depression than non-dog owners.

REINFORCEMENT OF FEELINGS OF ATTACHMENT AND USEFULNESS

Animals seem to contribute to the feelings of attachment and usefulness. People who own pets are often emotionally attached to their pets and feel more useful due to them.

 

In a study with participants over the age of 65, the authors show that the stronger the attachment to the animal, the more it has a positive effect on reducing depression in those who have few confidants.

 

According to Castelli and colleagues (2001), in men with AIDS, owning a cat, or even better, owning several cats, is associated with a higher sense of attachment to the animal compared to having one or more dogs. According to these participants, cats contribute more to feelings of usefulness and provide comfort and companionship while requiring less effort compared to dogs.

A SOURCE OF EMOTIONAL SUPPORT

Emotional support is the caring and listening behaviors that provide a sense of comfort essential to an individual in order to help them through difficult times. In many studies, pets have been shown to provide emotional support. Indeed, in a study by Westgarth and colleagues (2017), the emotional support provided by dogs was explained by the strong relationship between animals and humans.

 

Recently, a study of adults living in the UK assessed the role of pets during lockdown related to COVID-19. Most pet owners (86.5%) reported that their pet is an important source of emotional support7. Herrald and colleagues (2006) further suggest that pets are companions that contribute to the quality of life of participants in cardiac rehabilitation through social support.

 

In immunosuppressed populations, a study showed that animal-assisted visits, carried out with cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments, led to a significant increase in their social and emotional well-being despite a decrease in their physical and functional well-being during the same period. In a study of immunosuppressed patients (individuals with AIDS), almost half of study participants (47.6%) identified their pets as a source of emotional support.

STRESS REDUCTION

Pets can also have a calming effect. Indeed, participants of a study, men and women aged between 29 and 69 years, reported that walking with a dog represents a source of relaxation.

 

Additionally, animals can have positive effects on stress levels of cancer patients. Indeed, a study by Larson and colleagues (2010) showed that 80% of participants report that their pet is beneficial in helping them cope with the stress related to their cancer diagnosis. This result can be explained by the participants' high level of attachment to their animals and the increase in their happiness because of them.

Several studies have identified the psychosocial benefits associated with having a pet. However, few studies have been performed in immunosuppressed populations and none, to our knowledge, have been performed in transplant recipients. The Projet Laurent will bring an innovative and original scientific contribution; it will document the psychosocial benefits and the underlying mechanisms of action in immunosuppressed patients in order to formulate concrete recommendations useful to veterinarians, healthcare professionals and the general public.

BENEFITS ON LIFESTYLE BEHAVIORS

Having a pet is also beneficial for adopting and maintaining healthy lifestyles, especially by promoting physical activity and better sleep. However, few studies specifically target immunosuppressed populations and knowledge remains very limited about the benefits of pet ownership for reducing sedentary behavior.

Habitues de vie

INCREASED PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

In numerous studies among the general population, it has been shown that having a pet is beneficial for the practice of physical activity.

 

First, adults who own a dog get more minutes of physical activity (including walking) than adults without dogs. Another study shows that new dog owners increased their walking time by 48 minutes per week over a one-year period.

 

Another important finding from a 2019 study suggests that dog owners are more likely to walk in their leisure time, walk for a longer period, and are four times more likely to meet the 150-minute recommendation of physical activity per week than non-dog owners13.

 

Finally, it has been shown that the owners of all types of pets (cat, snake, bird, etc.) do more physical activity than non-pet owners.

EFFECT ON SEDENTARY BEHAVIORS

Sedentary behaviors are characterized by very low energy expenditure when sitting or lying down (excluding sleep). Working long hours at a desk or watching television are considered sedentary behaviors. It is therefore possible for an individual who participates in regular physical activity to be sedentary.

 

However, a sedentary lifestyle is an independent risk factor from poor physical activity for many health problems such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, stress, anxiety and depression.

 

Studies examining the benefits of pet ownership on lifestyle behaviors focus solely on changes in physical activity level and unfortunately, do not distinguish physical activity and sedentary behaviors.​

IMPROVED SLEEP

To our knowledge, only one study examines the association between having a pet and sleep. The authors suggest that dog owners fall asleep faster than owners of other types of animals and non-owners of animals.

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No studies have examined the effect of having a pet on lifestyle habits such as physical activity, sedentary behavior, or sleep in immunosuppressed people. The Projet Laurent aims to identify, for example, whether or not owning a pet promotes physical activity, reduces sedentary behaviors and improves sleep. The Projet Laurent will also document whether or not certain types of animals or activities that owners do with their animals are associated with the adoption and maintenance of healthy lifestyles. The results of the Projet Laurent will formulate concrete recommendations useful to veterinarians, health professionals and the general public.

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