92% of UK Dog Owners Feel Their Dogs Help Combat Loneliness

The Mental Health Foundation has announced that the topic for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is loneliness.

The Foundation’s research found that loneliness in the UK has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, affecting millions of people within society and increasing risks of mental health issues. 

Here at Barc London, we want to help raise awareness of this aspect of life that impacts so many of us. In doing so, we hope to provide a safe space for open conversation, while exploring potential avenues for support. 

Exploring the relationship between dog ownership & loneliness

Last month, we conducted a survey to better understand the role of dog ownership as it relates to experiences of loneliness in the UK. We aimed to gain insight into the ways dogs could help to reduce loneliness among society and facilitate human connection. We found that: 

• 92% of UK dog owners surveyed feel their dogs have helped with combating loneliness

• 67% reported they never feel lonely or isolated when with their dog/s

• 4 in 5 have formed new human relationships out of owning a dog

* All of the survey participants were based in the UK and owned 1 - 4 dogs. Of the respondents, 18% reported that they lived alone and 82% lived with someone else (friends, family, flatshare)

Survey Findings:

    General Information:

     

    Loneliness & Dog Ownership Statistics (UK)

    Loneliness and go ownership statistics

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    1 in 4 of us experience feelings of loneliness often

    Focusing on the subjective experience of loneliness, our survey respondents were asked how often they felt lonely, using the response categories ‘never’, ‘sometimes’, ‘often’ and ‘all the time / always’

    In our approach to measure loneliness, we found that:

    • 25% experienced loneliness often 
    • Just under 1 in 10 experienced feelings of loneliness all the time 
    • 1 in 3 living with someone else still experienced loneliness often or all the time (32%)
    Graph Showing Loneliness in UK Dog Owners

     

    92% of dog owners feel their dogs help combat loneliness 

    To better understand the role of dog ownership in relation to issues of loneliness, survey participants were asked whether or not they felt owning a dog had helped to combat their experience of loneliness. The response categories ‘yes’, ‘unsure’ and ‘no’ were used. 

    • 9 in 10 think that their dogs have helped with feelings of loneliness 
    • 93% feel they would experience loneliness more frequently were it not for their dogs

    The main way that dogs are reported to help reduce loneliness for their owners is by providing company in quiet times. 

    As well as this, dogs were found to help their owners create a routine, an important approach to improving wellbeing and reducing the frequency of significant loneliness among people.

    Routine and structure is found to be important in every stage of life, helping people better cope with change, establish and maintain healthy behaviours and promote positive thought patterns. 

    Graph Showing Dog Owners Who Feel Dogs Combat Loneliness
    Bar Graph Showing How Dogs Reduce Loneliness

     

    Dogs are responsible for 4 in 5 owners forming new human relationships

    A large number of the participants reported that their dogs have helped them combat loneliness through human interaction on walks. 

    Dr June McNicholas and her associates from the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick conducted two studies to test the social catalyst effect of dogs. They found that being in the company of a dog increased people’s interactions. 

    “Dogs act as social ‘icebreakers’ and help people strike up friendly conversation with others. We are probably much more sociable than society allows us. It is difficult for us to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger - all sorts of ulterior motives may be suspected. But being with a dog (or other pet) gives a safe, non-threatening, neutral topic to start a conversation.”

    Dr McNicholas' findings align with the 80% of survey respondents who had formed new social connections out of owning a dog. 

    Radial Graph Showing Dog Owner Statistics for Human Connection

     

    As well as helping to increase social interaction, dog walks provide a way for people to increase their physical activity, a factor that is linked to improved mental health. 

    • 79% feel their dog/s help them keep fit and healthy by leading more active lifestyles
    • 83% enjoy long walks with their dogs as quality time
    • 1 in 2 were motivated to own a dog to keep active 

    Physical activity helps to boost wellbeing by releasing endorphins, chemicals produced by the nervous system to cope with pain and stress. Often referred to as ‘feel good chemicals’, endorphins can help to improve mood as they interact with brain receptors to reduce perceived pain. 

    Donut Chart Showing Dog Owners Statistics for Healthy Lifestyles

    In an open-ended survey response question, respondents were asked to share their favourite memory with their dog/s.

    • 22% of dog owners mentioned walks outdoors 🍃
    • 17% mentioned days at the beach on holidays or trips 🏖️

    🌊  Research shows that time spent by the ocean can be good for wellbeing, helping to reduce stress hormones and feelings associated with mental health issues like depression.

    As well as providing Vitamin D, opportunities for physical activity and a better night’s sleep, studies have also found that the ocean can help to promote feelings of calm and peace.

    “The colour blue has been found by an overwhelming amount of people to be associated with feelings of calm. Staring at the ocean actually changes our brain waves’ frequency and puts us into a meditative state

    The smell of the ocean breeze also contributes to your soothed state, which may have something to do with the negative ions in the air that you’re breathing in. These oxygen atoms have an extra electron and occur in places like waterfalls and the ocean.”

    Key takeaways

    • Social Connection: Dog ownership can lead to increased human companionship, providing greater opportunities for social interaction
    • Reduced Levels of Stress: Owning a dog is reported to reduce anxiety and depression, helping to decrease blood pressure
    • Combating Loneliness: Despite still experiencing feelings of loneliness from time to time, the majority of dog owners surveyed believe their dogs help to combat these feelings and provide avenues for solutions 
    • Providing Companionship: In a number of studies, companionship is listed as the primary motivator for dog ownership, suggesting that dogs help to increase feelings of connectedness
    • Increased Physical Activity: Dogs are motivators for healthier lifestyle choices - encouraging higher levels of exercise and physical activity

      Understanding loneliness 

      Age UK defines loneliness as a subjective feeling of a person’s desired levels of social contact and their actual level of social contact. It refers to the perceived quality of a person’s relationships, and it can negatively impact self-worth and belonging .

      While loneliness is not a mental health issue in itself, it is a key indicator of poor health, understood to increase the risks of conditions like:

      • Stress
      • Anxiety 
      • Sleep problems
      • Depression 

      There are lots of reasons why people feel lonely, and because loneliness is a subjective experience, defining specific causes can be difficult. However, certain groups of people are found to be more vulnerable to feelings of loneliness - such as young adults, senior people, minority groups, people with disabilities, people facing discrimination, and individuals who have no friends or family. 

      For some, the experience of loneliness is temporary. Others experience acute or chronic loneliness over the long-term.

      Loneliness often causes negative emotions and thoughts, which can impact other aspects of a person's life and their ability to function within society.

      The Mental Health Foundation’s research has continually seen that being connected to people in a way that helps us feel valued is fundamental to protecting mental health.

      The problem with loneliness is that it creates a negative cycle of disconnection. 

       

      The impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on loneliness

      The pandemic shone a light on the importance of human relationships and social connections within society. To help prevent the spread of Coronavirus, the UK underwent waves of lockdowns and periods of restrictions that limited social contact. 

      Research conducted by the Local Government Association found that during the pandemic: 

      • People who felt most lonely prior to Covid now have even higher levels of loneliness 
      • The impact of wellbeing of people at risk of loneliness was compounded by other social and economic impacts (such as job losses and health anxieties)
      • Adults most at risk of loneliness had one or more of the following characteristics: young, living alone, on low incomes, out of work, living with a mental health condition

      A study by the Mental Health Foundation also found that during the UK lockdowns, levels of loneliness in people were 3 times higher than pre-pandemic.

       

      Mental Health Awareness Week 2022

      This year's MHA Week is being focused on practical steps that can be taken to address the UK's loneliness epidemic. 

      On the Mental Health  Foundation's website, you'll find a number of resources with tips for coping with loneliness. One of the talking points is on the power of pets, 

      "Spend time with pets: 

      If you are lucky enough to have a pet, it can be a great way of managing loneliness. Not only do animals provide us with unconditional love and support, but they also help to give structure to our days and even encourage us to get out and connect with others. Interaction with pets is also shown to help reduce stress levels"

      Mental Health Awareness Week with Barc London

      We can’t thank our community enough for all of the support and engagement so far. To everyone who took the time to complete our survey, we truly appreciate the valuable insights you have been able to provide.

      As part of this year's Mental Health Awareness Week, the Mental Health Foundation is encouraging everyone to get involved in 'the largest collective sharing of loneliness experiences'. To start the conversation, our founder and CEO Alex Fell has shared his own story in an open letter.

      Since then, we have spoken to a number of customers who have kindly taken the time to share their stories with us. To help people feel less alone in their experiences, we have published a collection of these conversations, where loneliness is discussed as it relates to dog ownership.

      We've been there, and we're here to help tackle loneliness together.

      Read people's stories
      • British Red Cross

        Provides support for people coping with loneliness and social isolation. The British Red Cross offers a service to help people reconnect with their local community.

      • Mind

        Mind offers an online community of support called Side By Side where people can connect with others, bond over shared interests and talk about mental health issues openly.

      • Eden Project Communities

        Provides a network aimed at connecting people and communities. Their mission is to bring people together and increase individual sense of belonging. Get involved.

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