People who own pets are better able to manage mental health conditions, a study published Wednesday by three British universities revealed.
In what was the first systematic review of existing evidence, researchers at Manchester, Liverpool and Southampton showed how owning a dog or cat, or keeping goldfish, hamsters and finches helps people with long-term mental health problems.
Published in the journal BMC Psychiatry, academics from the three universities reviewed a collection of academic papers on the impact of animal ownership.
The team searched databases and looked for unpublished literature which identified 8,145 articles that were studied by the team of academics.
The studies found that pets helped pet owners to better manage their feelings and provided a powerful distraction from the stress of having mental health problems. The animals were seen as being non-judgmental about their owners and owning them helped alleviate loneliness.
Some pets were also seen as helpful in terms of encouraging physical activity, such as walking the dog, but also allowing them to engage socially with other pet owners.
One hamster owner said merely cleaning its cage and feeding the animal gave her a purpose.
Helen Brooks from the University of Liverpool said: "Pets provided acceptance without judgement, giving unconditional support, which they were often not receiving from other family or social relationships."
Kelly Rushton, from the University of Manchester said: "Pet ownership has a valuable contribution to mental health, so should be incorporated into individual care plans of patients."
"This sort of intervention also offers an opportunity to involve patients in their own mental health service provision through open discussion of what works best for them," Rushton said.