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

Böckerman, P., Bennetts, S.K., Crawford, S.B., Howell, T.J., Burgemeister, F., Chamberlain, C., Burke, K. and Nicholson, J.M. (2022) Parent and child mental health during COVID-19 in Australia: The role of pet attachment. PLoS ONE, 17 (7). Art. e0271687.

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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.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Ngangk Yira Aboriginal Health Research Centre
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Copyright: © 2022 Bennetts et al.
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