The companionship of a pet after the loss of a spouse can help reduce feelings of depression and loneliness in older adults, Florida State University researchers have found.

“Increasingly, there’s evidence that our social support networks are really beneficial for maintaining our mental health following stressful events,” said Dawn Carr, Ph.D., who led the study.

Carr and colleagues compared people who experienced the loss of a spouse with those who remained married. They concluded that all individuals losing a spouse experience higher levels of depression. People without a pet, however, experience more significant increases in depressive symptoms and higher loneliness.

The findings have consequences for social policies, the authors wrote. “For instance, it may be beneficial to include [companion animals] in the treatment for individuals residing in residential facilities for middle-aged and older adults, or reducing barriers to pet ownership in such settings,” they said.

Full findings appear in The Gerontologist.

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