: Dog therapy might help ease loneliness in aging adults
Mars Petcare

Can Dog Therapy Ease Loneliness in Aging Adults?

COVID-19 has taken a toll on our mental health over the past year, and social distancing may have disproportionately impacted aging adults already suffering from loneliness.

At Mars Petcare, we believe pets can play an important role in addressing social isolation. That’s why we’re supporting a new scientific study by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of Medicine’s Center for Human-Animal Interaction and its Dogs on Call  therapy dog program. The study will explore how animal therapy might help reduce loneliness — and potentially influence positive health outcomes for hospital patients — in aging adults.

The team will investigate how patients respond after interacting with the Dogs on Call human-canine teams, then will compare their response to patients interacting only with the handlers and those receiving standard treatment.

“With this study, we hope to show the demonstrable effect visits from therapy dogs can have on patients, without relying on anecdotal evidence or correlational outcomes which have often plagued this field of research. We’re really raising the bar,” says human-animal interaction expert Nancy Gee, Ph.D., Virginia Commonwealth University.    

Research has shown interacting with pets and therapy dogs can benefit both our mental and physical well-being. A number of studies have found pets can help children, university students, military veterans and  other adults better manage stress and anxiety.

What’s more, according to a 2019 market survey  by the  Human-Animal Bond Research Institute in collaboration with Mars Petcare, 80% of U.S. pet owners say their pet makes them feel less lonely and nearly 9 in 10 people who got a pet to reduce feelings of loneliness say it works!

The study will also work to ensure the therapy dogs are benefiting from the experience as well: The dogs will wear a Whistle FIT™ health and activity tracker to record changes in the dog’s behavior. Information from the devices, along with other measures of stress levels and well-being, will contribute to Whistle’s wider research efforts on the health and well-being of all dogs.

Through this study, along with the ongoing efforts of our Summit on Social Isolation and Companion Animals  working groups, Mars Petcare aims to enable research to help inform evidence-based guidelines for healthcare professionals, so those who benefit most can access animal therapy programs.  

Watch human-animal interaction experts share more about the study, how pet interaction may help address challenges such as loneliness and social isolation, and how together we can build A Better World for Pets™ — and people!