Pets helped many people cope with the mental stress of being locked down during the coronavirus pandemic, a new study finds.

It included 6,000 people in Britain who were under lockdown between March 23 and June 1. About 90% had at least one pet.

Of those, more than 90% said their pet helped them cope emotionally with the lockdown and 96% said their pet helped keep them fit and active.

“Findings from this study also demonstrated potential links between people’s mental health and the emotional bonds they form with their pets: measures of the strength of the human-animal bond were higher among people who reported lower scores for mental health-related outcomes at baseline,” said lead author Elena Ratschen, a senior lecturer in health services research at the University of York in England.

The most common pets were cats and dogs, followed by small mammals and fish.

But the strength of the human-pet bond didn’t differ significantly among types of pets — people felt as close to their pups as to their guinea pigs, according to the study published Sept. 25 in the journal PLOS ONE.

The study also found that 68% of pet owners said they worried about their animals during lockdown. Reasons included restrictions on access to veterinary care and exercise, as well as concern about who would look after their pet if they got sick.

“While our study showed that having a pet may mitigate some of the detrimental psychological effects of the COVID-19 lockdown, it is important to understand that this finding is unlikely to be of clinical significance and does not warrant any suggestion that people should acquire pets to protect their mental health during the pandemic,” Ratschen said in a university news release.

The most popular interaction with animals that weren’t pets was birdwatching. Almost 55% of participants said they watched and fed birds in their garden, according to the study.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on mental health and coping during the coronavirus pandemic.