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Mars Petcare and HABRI Host Summit on Social Isolation, Loneliness and Companion Animals

The Summit brings together a broad cross-section of expertise to focus on the role of human-animal interaction in helping people at risk for social isolation.

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(PRESS RELEASE) Mars Petcare and the Human Animal Bond Research Institute gathered leaders in public health, research, psychology, gerontology and veterinary medicine to advance scientific research, best practices and practical solutions to facilitate the role of companion animals and human-animal interaction in addressing the public health crisis of social isolation and loneliness in society.

Health experts have described loneliness as reaching epidemic levels — affecting people of all generations from all walks of life. And most important, social isolation has been shown to be as deadly as smoking 15 cigarettes per day, making it a serious threat to public health. There is widespread agreement among both pet owners and non-owners that companion animals can play a role in addressing the societal challenge of loneliness and social isolation.

Results from nationally representative market research reinforce the social bond between humans and pets. Specifically, 80 percent of pet owners say their pet makes them feel less lonely. When it comes to both pet owners and non-pet-owners, 85 percent of respondents believe interaction with a companion animal can help reduce loneliness and 76 percent agree human-animal interactions can help address social isolation. Further, pet owners with the closest bond to their pet see the highest positive impact on their feelings of loneliness and social isolation.

“Scientific research shows that pets have a positive impact on our health and wellbeing,” said Steven Feldman, HABRI executive director. “The insights from this research further highlight how the human-animal bond can play a role in helping to alleviate loneliness and social isolation.”

The market research also showed:

• Around one in four (26 percent) pet owners stated they got a pet because they know it is good for mental health — with respondents aged 55-plus doing so more frequently (55 percent).

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• 54 percent of respondents say their pet helps them connect with other people.

• Half of respondents (51 percent) say their pet helps them feel less shy.

• Nine in 10 people aged 55-plus believe pets can help older adults feel less lonely.

• Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of those surveyed believe nursing homes and assisted-living facilities have a degree of responsibility to foster pet interaction.

Using the insights uncovered in the research, Mars Petcare and HABRI have convened the first-ever Summit on Social Isolation, Loneliness and Companion Animals. The Summit brings together a broad cross-section of expertise to focus on the role of human-animal interaction in helping people at risk for social isolation, with a specific focus on human-animal interaction as an option for people facing mental health challenges and as a resource for older adults.

Speakers at the summit included the 19th U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, who continues to champion the importance of finding ways to address loneliness and social isolation.

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Murthy shared, “For our health and our work, it is imperative we address the loneliness epidemic quickly and on many evidence-based fronts. I hope this summit and its working groups will inspire more and different efforts to address loneliness and social isolation through pet interactions and ultimately help make a profound difference for the millions affected.”

To maximize these benefits, many people feel society needs to encourage acceptance and expand access for pets. The HABRI-Mars Petcare survey shows people believe government — both state (41 percent) and federal (38 percent) — have a degree of responsibility to foster human-animal interaction. Many experts feel this represents an opportunity for new, innovative partnerships that harness the power of pets to improve society.

“We know pets improve our lives in many ways — including providing companionship and bringing people together,” said Nancy Gee, human-animal interaction research manager at the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition. “It’s our hope that one day evidence-based methods can become common practice in schools, hospitals and other therapy settings. Driven by science, we hope to enable and encourage experts who work with people facing loneliness and social isolation to consider facilitating animal interaction as a way to help address the issue.”

To learn more about the summit and the research into the benefits of pets on loneliness, please visit waltham.com and habri.org. To learn more about the benefits of pets and how you can take action in your community so that more people and pets can live healthy lives together, visit bettercitiesforpets.com.

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