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The Impact of Pets on Human Health and Psychological Well-Being: Fact, Fiction, or Hypothesis?



Because of extensive media coverage, it is now widely believed that pets enhance their owners’ health, sense of psychological well-being, and longevity. But while some researchers have reported that positive effects accrue from interacting with animals, others have found that the health and happiness of pet owners is no better, and in some cases worse, than that of non–pet owners. I discuss some reasons why studies of the effects of pets on people have produced conflicting results, and I argue that the existence of a generalized “pet effect” on human mental and physical health is at present not a fact but an unsubstantiated hypothesis.
Current Directions in Psychological
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DOI: 10.1177/0963721411415220
2011 20: 236Current Directions in Psychological Science
Harold Herzog
The Impact of Pets on Human Health and Psychological Well-Being : Fact, Fiction, or Hypothesis?
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DOI: 10.1177/0963721411415220
Many people are deeply attached to companion animals. In the
United States, over two thirds of households include a pet,
most of which are regarded by their owners as family mem-
bers. Considering that the lifetime costs of owning a pet are
about $8,000 for a medium-sized dog and $10,000 for a cat
(cats tend to live longer than dogs), devoting resources on a
creature with whom you share no genes and who is unlikely to
ever return the favor seems to make little evolutionary sense.
Aside from the expense, there are other downsides to compan-
ion animals. In the United States, a person is 100 times more
likely to be seriously injured or killed by a dog than by a ven-
omous snake, and over 85,000 Americans are taken to emer-
gency rooms each year because of falls caused by their pets.
Further, people can contract a cornucopia of diseases from
companion animals, including brucellosis, roundworm, skin
mites, E. coli, salmonella, giardia, ringworms, and cat-scratch
fever. And, pets are second only to late-night noise as a source
of conflict between neighbors.
Although not culturally universal, pet keeping exists in
most societies, and an array of theories have been offered to
explain why people bring animals into their lives (Herzog,
2010). Among these are the misfiring of parental instincts, bio-
philia (a hypothetical biologically based love of nature), social
contagion, the tendency for the middle class to emulate the
customs of the rich, the need to dominate the natural world,
social isolation in urban societies, and the desire to teach
responsibility and kindness to children. While the reasons that
pet keeping has become a widespread cultural phenomenon
are unclear, it is evident that companion animals are vitally
important in the lives of many people.
The “Pet Effect”
When asked what they specifically get from their relationships
with pets, people typically mention companionship, having a
play partner, and the need to love and care for another crea-
ture. But fueled by media reports and books with titles like The
Healing Power of Pets: Harnessing the Amazing Ability of
Pets to Make and Keep People Happy and Healthy (Becker,
2002), the public has come to accept as fact the idea that pets
can also serve as substitutes for physicians and clinical psy-
chologists. The idea that living with an animal can improve
human health, psychological well-being, and longevity has
been called the “pet effect” (Allen, 2003).
Most pet owners believe that their companion animals are
good for them. Personal convictions, however, do not consti-
tute scientific evidence. Claims about the medical and psycho-
logical benefits of living with animals need to be subjected to
the same standards of evidence as a new drug, medical device,
Corresponding Author:
Harold Herzog, Department of Psychology, Western Carolina University,
Cullowhee, NC, 29723
The Impact of Pets on Human Health
and Psychological Well-Being: Fact, Fiction,
or Hypothesis?
Harold Herzog
Western Carolina University
Because of extensive media coverage, it is now widely believed that pets enhance their owners’ health, sense of psychological
well-being, and longevity. But while some researchers have reported that positive effects accrue from interacting with animals,
others have found that the health and happiness of pet owners is no better, and in some cases worse, than that of non–pet
owners. I discuss some reasons why studies of the effects of pets on people have produced conflicting results, and I argue that
the existence of a generalized “pet effect” on human mental and physical health is at present not a fact but an unsubstantiated
pets, companion animals, health, psychological well-being, happiness
by Divya Menon on August 9, 2011cdp.sagepub.comDownloaded from
Pets, Human Health, and Psychological Well-Being 237
or form of psychotherapy. Over the past 30 years, hundreds of
studies have examined the impact of pets on human health and
happiness. Here I argue that, contrary to media reports, an
examination of this body of literature indicates that the pet
effect remains an uncorroborated hypothesis rather than an
established fact. (Note that the main focus of this article is on
the effects of pets on the physical and mental health of their
owners, not the efficacy of animals as therapeutic agents for
disorders such as autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity
The Evidence That Pets Are
Good for People
The first demonstration of an association between pets and
health was an early study of 92 heart-attack victims in which
28% of pet owners survived for at least a year as compared to
only 6% of non–pet owners (Friedmann, Katcher, Lynch, &
Thomas, 1980). These findings generated a flurry of research
on the positive impact of interacting with companion animals
(see review by Wells, 2009a). For example, stroking dogs and
cats, watching tropical fish in an aquarium, and even caressing
a pet boa constrictor have been reported to reduce blood pres-
sure and stress levels. The most convincing of these studies
was a clinical trial in which hypertensive stockbrokers were
randomly assigned to either pet or no-pet conditions. Six
months later, when put in a stressful situation, subjects in the
pet group showed lower increases in blood pressure than did
those in the non-pet control condition (Allen, Shykoff, & Izzo,
2001). Researchers have also reported that psychological ben-
efits accrue from living with animals. These include studies
showing that pet owners have higher self-esteem, more posi-
tive moods, more ambition, greater life satisfaction, and lower
levels of loneliness (El-Alayli, Lystad, Webb, Hollingsworth,
& Ciolli, 2006).
Epidemiologists have also connected pet ownership to bet-
ter health and well-being (see review by Headey & Grabka,
2011). For example, among 11,000 German and Australian
adults, pet owners were in better physical condition than non-
pet owners, and they made 15% fewer doctor visits, a potential
savings of billions of dollars in national health expenditures.
And an epidemiological study of Chinese women found that
pet owners exercised more, slept better, felt more physically
fit, and missed fewer days from work than women without
pets. Further, these effects were particularly strong for indi-
viduals who reported that they were very closely attached to
their pets.
Now the Bad News
Pet owners are, of course, delighted to read about research that
confirms the view that living with a dog or cat makes for a
happier and longer life. But while the media abounds with sto-
ries extolling the health benefits of pets, studies in which pet
ownership has been found to have no impact or even negative
effects on human physical or mental health rarely make head-
lines. For instance, there was no media coverage of a recent
study of 425 heart-attack victims that found pet owners were
more likely than non–pet owners to die or suffer remissions
within a year of suffering their heart attack (22% vs. 14%;
Parker et al., 2010). Indeed, replication has been a persistent
problem with research on the effects of pets on human health.
Straatman, Hanson, Endenburg, and Mol (1997), for instance,
found that performing a stressful task in the presence of a dog
had no short-term effect on blood pressure. And a study of
1,179 older adults found no differences in the blood pressure
or risk of hypertension of pet and non–pet owners (Wright,
Kritz-Silverstein, Morton, Wingard, & Barrett-Connor, 2007).
(The pet owners in the study did, however, exercise less than
non-owners and were more apt to be overweight.)
The impact of pets on psychological well-being has also
been called into question. A Pew Research Center survey of
3,000 Americans found no differences in the proportion of pet
owners and nonowners who described themselves as “very
happy” (in Herzog, 2010). Researchers in England adminis-
tered the UCLA–Loneliness scale to people who were seeking
a companion animal. When retested 6 months later, the indi-
viduals who had acquired pets were just as lonely as they were
before they got their companion animal. In addition, they were
no happier than participants who had not gotten a pet (Gilbey,
McNicholas, & Collis, 2007). Another recent study found that
older adults who were highly attached to their dogs tended to
be more depressed than individuals who were not as attached
to their companion animals (Miltiades & Shearer, 2011).
Nor has pet ownership fared well in recent epidemiological
studies. A study of 40,000 Swedes found that while pet owners
were physically healthier than non–pet owners, they suffered
more from psychological problems including anxiety, chronic
tiredness, insomnia, and depression (Müllersdorf, Granström,
Sahlqvist, & Tillgren, 2010). A Finnish study of 21,000 adults
reported that pet owners were at increased risk for hyperten-
sion, high cholesterol, gastric ulcers, migraine headaches,
depression, and panic attacks (Koivusilta & Ojanlatva, 2006).
In an Australian study of 2,551 elderly adults, dog ownership
was associated with poorer physical health and with depres-
sion (Parslow, Jorm, Christensen, & Rodgers, 2005). Finally,
in a longitudinal study of nearly 12,000 American adults, cat
or dog ownership was unrelated to mortality rates (Gillum &
Obisesan, 2010).
Reasons Why Pet-Effect Research Is
For many people, pets are profoundly pleasurable and a source
of psychological support. The fact is, however, that empirical
studies of the effects of pets on human health and well-being
have produced a mishmash of conflicting results. While pets
are undoubtedly good for some people, there is presently
insufficient evidence to support the contention that, as a group,
pet owners are healthier or happier or that they live longer than
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238 Herzog
people who do not have companion animals in their lives.
Why are the results of studies on the pet effect so inconsistent?
Ioannidis (2005) argues that conflicting results and failures to
replicate are especially prevalent in areas of science in which
studies are characterized by small and homogeneous samples,
a wide diversity of research designs, and small effect sizes. He
also believes that research topics that are particularly “hot” are
especially prone to replication problems. All of these criteria
apply to research on the effects of pets on human health.
Design problems are common in studies of human–animal
interactions. Meta-analyses enable scientists to look for patterns
in the results of multiple studies on the same topic, but there have
been no meta-analyses of studies of the effects of pets on owner
happiness or health. However, for a meta-analysis in a related
area (the effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy), Nimer and
Lundahl (2007) had to comb through 250 studies to find 49 that
met even minimal standards for methodological rigor.
There is also the problem of how to interpret differences
between pet owners and nonowners. Most studies reporting
positive effects of pets are not true experiments in which the
subjects are randomly assigned to “pet” and “non-pet” groups.
Rather, they involve correlational or quasiexperimental designs
that compare people who choose to live with pets with people
who do not. Hence, while it might be the case that pets cause
their owners to be healthier and happier, it is equally possible
that the causal arrow points the other direction—that people
who are healthier, happier, and wealthier to begin with are more
likely to have the energy and financial resources required to
bring companion animals into their lives and to keep them for
extended periods. (Of course, the caution against conflating cor-
relation and causality also applies to studies in which pet owner-
ship has been found to be associated with poorer mental or
physical health.)
In addition, many studies of human–animal interactions are
based on self-reports of pet owners. While these can be useful,
self-reports sometimes produce results that are at odds with
more objective indices of health. For example, Wells (2009b)
investigated the impact of acquiring a pet on individuals suf-
fering from chronic fatigue syndrome. She found that while
the pet owners in the study claimed their animals provided
them with a host of psychological and physical benefits, their
scores on standardized measures (the Chalder Fatigue Ques-
tionnaire, the General Health Questionairre-12, and the Short-
Form-37 Health Survey) indicated that they were just as tired,
depressed, worried, and stressed as chronic fatigue sufferers
who did not get a pet.
A problem called the “file drawer effect,” which plagues
many areas of research, also skews the scientific literature on
human–animal relationships. This is the tendency for negative
results to wind up in the researcher’s filing cabinet rather than
in the pages of a scientific journal. At a session at a 2009
conference on human–animal interactions, for example, one
researcher reported that separation from their pets had no effect
on the psychological adjustment of college students, another
found that interacting with animals did not reduce depression in
psychiatric nursing home residents, and a third found no differ-
ences in the loneliness of adult pet owners and nonowners. So
far, none of these studies have appeared in print.
Finally, erroneous positive results are more common in
areas of science in which researchers have vested interests—
financial or otherwise—in a study’s outcome. Researchers are
often drawn to the study of human–animal relationships
because they are pet lovers who are personally convinced of
the healing powers of the human–animal bond. Hence investi-
gators in this field need to be particularly vigilant in designing
studies that reduce the chances of unconsciously biasing
research results. This can be especially problematic in studies
on the impact of pets on human health in which it is often dif-
ficult or impossible to eliminate placebo effects via traditional
methods such as single- and double-blind experimental and
control groups.
Why Psychologists Should Study Human–
Animal Relationships
In short, despite the growing body of research on the bonds
between people and pets, the existence of a pet effect on
human health and happiness remains a hypothesis in need of
confirmation rather than an established fact. This conclusion
should not be taken as a condemnation of pet keeping. Indeed,
companion animals have always been part of my own life, and
I understand the joys that come with living with members of
other species. Nor am I arguing that behavioral scientists
should avoid studying the impact of animals on human health
and well-being. In fact, we need more rather than less research
on this topic.
Rozin (2006) cogently observed that in their quest to
explain general principles of behavior, psychologists have
neglected huge domains of human life such as food, work, and
religion. I would add our attitudes, behaviors, and relation-
ships with other species to the list of topics that most people
find fascinating but that psychologists have for the most part
ignored. The study of our interactions with animals is interest-
ing, important, and challenging. Whether, and under what cir-
cumstances, pets make people happier and healthier is unclear.
It is, however, clear that animals play a role in nearly every
aspect of human psychological and cultural life. And our atti-
tudes and behaviors toward and relationships with other spe-
cies offer a unique window into many aspects of human nature.
Recommended Reading
Archer, J. (2011). Pet keeping: A case study in maladaptive behavior.
In C.A. Salmon & T.K. Shackelford (Eds.), The Oxford handbook
of evolutionary family psychology (pp. 281–296). New York, NY:
Oxford University Press. Provides an overview of evolutionary
theories of pet keeping.
Herzog, H. (2010). (See References). An accessible introduction to
aspects of the psychology of human–animal interactions ranging
from the effects of pets on human health and happiness to how
people make moral decisions about the use of other species.
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Knight, S., & Herzog, H. (Eds.). (2009). New perspectives on
human–animal interactions: Theory, policy, and research [Special
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rent research on aspects of human–animal relationships.
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(2011). How animals affect us: Examining the influence of human–
animal interaction on child development and human health. Wash-
ington, DC: American Psychological Association. Edited volume
focused on pets and child development but also including excellent
reviews on the impact of animals on human health and well-being.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to
the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
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... The general hypothesis is that individuals benefit from the presence of companion animals. Recent evidence recommends that the nature of this association is diverse and complex (Herzog, 2011;Wells, 2009) and that many of the studies performed so far are subject to operational limitations Herzog, 2011;Wells, 2009). ...
... The general hypothesis is that individuals benefit from the presence of companion animals. Recent evidence recommends that the nature of this association is diverse and complex (Herzog, 2011;Wells, 2009) and that many of the studies performed so far are subject to operational limitations Herzog, 2011;Wells, 2009). ...
... Human-animal interactions (HAI) describe a wide range of interactions and relationships between animals and humans (Serpell J. 1996), and are of growing interest to researchers, the general public, and the media (Ratschen & Sheldon, 2019). The concept that owning a companion animal can improve human health has been termed "the pet effect" (Allen, 2003), This idea became widespread in the early 1980s when an association was described between companion animal ownership and survival rates from myocardial infarction (Friedmann, Katcher, Lynch, & Thomas, 1980), Meanwhile much research has been conducted on the effects that companion animals have on the health of their owners (Herzog, 2011;Wells, 2009). Today incompatible evidence exists concerning this pet effect. ...
Full-text available
This research aimed to explore the influence of pet keeping on the psychological well-being of adolescents. Pet keeping can also have some effect on human psychology. Animals as companions are an important part of human life. This exploratory study is being developed to contribute to a better understanding of the role of pet keeping in the Psychological well-being of adolescents. It will compare the levels of Psychological well-being in pet-keeper and non-pet-keeper adolescents of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPS). The sample size consisted of 100 individuals who were pet keepers, and they were selected using convenience sampling. For the control group, 100 individuals who did not own pets were approached. To gather a wide range of age groups, participants aged between 15 to 60 years were included in both groups. The combination of online and offline data collection methods and the inclusion of participants from various age groups aimed to enhance the overall validity and generalizability of the research findings. The Ryff Psychological Well-Being Scale, created by Carol Ryff, is a widely utilized questionnaire in psychological research and clinical assessments. The short form of the Ryff inventory which consists of 18 items was used. The study's key conclusion highlights a notable distinction between individuals who keep pets and those who do not.
... In other cases, dog ownership has been shown to have a negative effect; for example, Parker et al. (2010) found that (in a sample of 425 heart-attack victims) pet owners were more likely than non-pet owners to die or suffer remissions within a year of suffering their heart attack. Those results led some authors to argue that the pet effect remains inconclusive (e.g., Herzog, 2011), highlighting the need for more high-quality experimental research. ...
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Research shows that the inclusion of a dog in pictures showing a man in threatening scenarios improves women’s emotional reactions to them. However, the magnitude of this “dog-accompanying effect” (i.e., whether the inclusion of a dog renders socially threatening scenes less aversive, neutral, or positive) in societies differing in terms of safety remains unknown. To address this, undergraduate women from societies differing in safety levels (lower [Colombia, n = 120] and higher [Spain, n = 131] safety levels) provided valence, arousal, dominance, and safety ratings to images depicting a man alone or with a dog in threatening scenes, as well as to images of pleasant and neutral social scenes. The same response pattern was found in both countries: when viewing images of a dog accompanying a man, women gave lower valence, dominance, safety, and calmness ratings than when viewing images of neutral scenes. Conversely, women gave higher valence, dominance, safety, and calmness ratings when observing images of a dog accompanying a man compared with images showing the man alone in threatening scenes. Overall, these data indicate that a dog’s presence in pictures buffered negative emotional reactions to photos of threatening social scenes in societal contexts differing in safety levels, but still (slightly) activated the defensive motivational system. The slight activation of the defensive motivational system is interpreted as an adaptative response of the person to reduce or avoid potential harm (e.g., a hypothetical attack by the man). Our study provides a deeper understanding of the influence of dogs on women’s emotional reactions to images of threatening scenes by clarifying the magnitude of the dog effect in societies differing in safety levels.
... Therefore, a large number of studies on health maintenance and quality of life have been published (Crossman et al., 2015;Lengyel et al., 2021;Kinczel and Müller, 2023), the importance of which is undisputed. Dogs as companion animals have long been part of people's lives, but research on the health effects of dog ownership has gained momentum in recent decades (Cutt et al., 2007;Wells, 2009;Owen et al., 2010;Herzog, 2011;Westgarth et al., 2019;Albright et al., 2022;Suarez et al., 2022;Sellon et al., 2023). Animals are good companions according to Katcher (2000) because they can actively give love, do not contradict and are excellent projection surfaces for humans. ...
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Dogs, as companion animals, have many positive effects on the health and quality of life of dog owners, if the purpose of dog ownership is not as a watchdog but as a companion animal. Dogs can encourage the owner to engage in daily walks, play, sports and other interactions, which are beneficial for physical, mental and social well-being, as has been proven by various studies. The aim of our research was to investigate the role and impact of dogs on dog owners' physical activity, dog interactions and mental health. To achieve our goal, we created an online questionnaire that was completed by 220 dog owner respondents. Our research sought to understand how dog owners develop a relationship with their companion animal, the role of the dog in their active leisure time and the impact of the dog on the owner's mental health. We used a four-part questionnaire to obtain our answers. The first part covered demographic questions, the second part focused on the respondent's dog and the time spent with him/her doing sports. In the third part, the Monash Dog-Owner (MDORS) (Cavo et al., 2016) questionnaire was used and in the last part, the Mental Health Test was used. Our research has confirmed that exercising with dogs has positive effects on humans. Walking with a dog encourages exercise and also encourages the owner to spend time outdoors. Around 26% of the people in the study exercise together and 77.3% walk with their dog. The mental health of dog owners is medium and the level of happiness is above average. These results confirm that promoting dog ownership can help to achieve the objectives of public health strategies to encourage people to be more active, to exercise or to improve quality of life and health.
... Afirma-se, por outro lado, que indivíduos que criam filhos humanos têm menos probabilidade de autointitular-se pais de pet, mas simplesmente donos de pet / tutores. Isso se dá pelo fato de os investimentos financeiros para as crianças viriam primeiro, bem com os animais inserem-se nesses lares já com crianças para servirem de companheirismo e aprendizado às crianças, portanto ocupando um lugar secundário (Herzog, 2011). (2018), dentre as práticas associadas aos pais de pet, encontra-se, por exemplo, o treinamento prévio dos pets para que se comporte adequadamente em público. ...
O Brasil possui hoje a terceira maior população de pets do mundo. Tal número denota não só a intensa atividade econômica relacionada à aquisição de bens e serviços como também uma importante mudança de comportamento de indivíduos e famílias. Ainda assim, são escassos os estudos na área do comportamento do consumidor que tenham se debruçado sobre a relação humano-pet como “meio” e não como “fim”. Nesse sentido, o presente estudo busca identificar e debater características distintivas dos chamados “pais de pet”, bem como refletir sobre práticas de consumo comuns a este grupo. A partir de uma pesquisa qualitativa de caráter exploratório, que contou com a realização de sete entrevistas em profundidade com pais de pet autodeclarados, sugere-se que os investigados exibiram traços de busca pela extensão de si mesmos, interação análoga ao que teriam com uma outra pessoa, ampliação do grupo familiar, uso do pet em contextos de diversão e brincadeiras, e também busca por prazer e problemas. Neste contexto aloparental, os pais de pet realizam práticas antropomórficas, as quais podem estar influenciando suas decisões de consumo. Ao final, esboça-se dois perfis de pais de pet, em um espectro que ilustra prioridades em termos de comportamentos e práticas de consumo.
The contribution of companion animals to human mental wellbeing has received an increasing amount of scientific interest. Research findings concerning the nature of this relationship are however mixed. Variability in behavior and characteristics of the animal might explain this heterogeneity. The main aim of the present study is to investigate the association between companion animals and mental wellbeing in daily life and the role that animal characteristics play in this association, using an ecological momentary assessment approach. The sample will comprise of adult owners of a dog and/or a cat. Participants will start with a baseline assessment including demographic characteristics of the owner and the animal, as well as the C‐BARQ or Fe‐BARQ to assess general behavior of the animal. After the baseline assessment, a signal‐contingent scheme with semi‐random intervals will be used to examine human–animal interaction (HAI) in the natural setting of pet‐owners' daily lives. Participants will complete up to ten short assessments per day over the course of 5 days, reporting on the presence of‐, interaction with‐, and behavior of the companion animal. They also report on stressful activities and events, and on their current positive and negative affect. Multilevel regression analysis will be used to investigate the relationship between HAI, animal characteristics and mental wellbeing. With this study we hope to provide insight into the type of animal, behavior of the animal and specific elements of interaction with an animal, and their potential associations with human wellbeing. The knowledge gathered in this study will add to unraveling mechanisms underlying HAI and help to identify in which contexts and under what conditions HAI can have the greatest impact.
Though many prospective dog guardians have an optimistic view of dog-human relationships , the realities can be challenging. This paper discusses carer-reported emotional impacts of dealing with more problematic relationships with dogs. This study used a Grounded Theory method to qualitatively analyze 35 discussion threads about dog behavior, from two UK-based online discussion forums between June-October 2019. The study found a close link between the carers' perceptions of their relationships with their dogs, and whether the dogs behaved in ways that the owners considered acceptable.
Pet ownership has often been lauded as a protective factor for well-being, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. We expanded this question to consider how pet (i.e., species, number) and owner (i.e., pet relationship quality, personality, attachment orientations) characteristics affected the association between pet ownership and well-being in a pre-registered mixed method analysis of 767 people assessed three times in May 2020. In our qualitative analyses, pet owners listed both benefits and costs of pet ownership during the COVID-19 pandemic. In our quantitative analyses, we found that pet ownership was not reliably associated with well-being. Furthermore, this association largely did not depend on the number of pets owned, the species of pet(s) owned, the quality of the human–pet relationship, or the owner’s psychological characteristics. Our findings are consistent with a large body of research showing null associations of pet ownership on well-being (quantitatively) but positive reports of pet ownership (qualitatively).
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Simple Summary Pandemics are predicted to increase in frequency, so it is important that lessons are learned from COVID-19. As half of the world’s population has a companion animal in the home, it is also important to understand the pandemic experiences of both animal caregivers and their animals. Since 2020, a vast amount of literature has been published on the psychological well-being of people with companion animals during the COVID-19 pandemic. This review examined the effect of caring for companion animals on humans’ psychological well-being during this global crisis, as well as the benefits and challenges of having a companion animal during the pandemic and perceived effects on animals’ well-being. We reviewed one hundred and twenty-two studies and found positive, negative, and neutral psychological effects of having a companion animal during the pandemic. Animals were described as providing routine, a sense of purpose, distraction from COVID-19 worries, companionship, and emotional support. However, caregivers also reported worries about access to animal food and veterinary services, fears about COVID-19 transmission, concerns about being unable to financially support their animals, and worries about what would happen to their animals if their caregivers were hospitalized. Animals themselves experienced both positive and negative effects of being in lockdown. Abstract It is important to understand the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on animal caregivers and their companion animals in order to inform responses to future crises. Prior research is inconsistent, with the benefits of animal companionship believed to be overstated. In this scoping review, we searched four electronic databases and hand-searched reference lists of included studies. Over 4000 citations were found, and 122 were included in the review. Reflecting on the pre-COVID literature, quantitative evidence of the association between psychological well-being and animal companionship during the pandemic was mixed, with numerous positive, negative, and null findings reported. Studies highlighted the benefits of animal companionship during the pandemic, with animals reported to provide their caregivers with a routine, a sense of greater purpose, a positive distraction from COVID-19, companionship, and emotional support. However, participants also reported concerns about meeting animals’ needs, fears of animals catching or spreading the virus, and financial worries. Concerns about what would happen to animals if caregivers were hospitalized led some to delay COVID-19 testing or treatment. Animals also experienced benefits (such as increased companionship and calmer mood) and negative impacts (such as increased clinginess and separation anxiety). Companion animals should be a key consideration in emergency preparedness plans.
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The widely held belief that companion animal ownership can help to reduce loneliness was tested using a quasi-experimental longitudinal design. Over a six-month period, 59 participants completed the UCLA-Loneliness Scale when they were seeking to acquire a companion animal. Participants' loneliness was measured again six-months after their initial recruitment, by which time 35 of the 59 participants had acquired a new companion animal. There was no evidence that companion animal acquisition helped to reduce levels of loneliness, irrespective of whether participants already owned a companion animal at the time of seeking to acquire a new companion animal, or the type of companion animal that was acquired. There was no evidence that participants who ultimately acquired a new companion animal differed from participants who did not, suggesting that the findings were not a consequence of a self-selection bias. The perseverance and apparent strength of the belief that companion animal ownership can alleviate loneliness is discussed in relation to the current findings.
Pet owners often describe their pets as important and cherished family members who offer solace in times of stress. This article considers evidence suggesting that pets influence human blood pressure. Studies on this topic extend current research testing the hypothesis that having other people around in stressful times can buffer the negative consequences of stress. The existing data suggest that people perceive pets as important, supportive parts of their lives and that the presence of a pet is associated with significant cardiovascular benefits, among both people with normal blood pressure and those with high blood pressure. Studies about pets and blood pressure have examined both naturally occurring and randomly assigned pet ownership but are limited by their focus on responses to short-term, acute stress. Future prospective studies should explore the influence of pets on people at risk for cardiovascular disease and also consider explanatory mechanisms for the pet effect.
Substantial sums of money are invested annually in preventative medicine and therapeutic treatment for people with a wide range of physical and psychological health problems, sometimes to no avail. There is now mounting evidence to suggest that companion animals, such as dogs and cats, can enhance the health of their human owners and may thus contribute significantly to the health expenditure of our country. This paper explores the evidence that pets can contribute to human health and well-being. The article initially concentrates on the value of animals for short- and long-term physical health, before exploring the relationship between animals and psychological health, focusing on the ability of dogs, cats, and other species to aid the disabled and serve as a “therapist” to those in institutional settings. The paper also discusses the evidence for the ability of dogs to facilitate the diagnosis and treatment of specific chronic diseases, notably cancer, epilepsy, and diabetes. Mechanisms underlying the ability of animals to promote human health are discussed within a theoretical framework. Whereas the evidence for a direct causal association between human well-being and companion animals is not conclusive, the literature reviewed is largely supportive of the widely held, and long-standing, belief that “pets are good for us.”
We extended past research on the self-enhancement bias and the mere ownership effect to examine whether people have favorably distorted views of their pets. Participants in Study 1 rated their own pet and the average pet on a series of desirable and undesirable personality traits. Participants rated their own pet more favorably than the average pet, revealing a pet-enhancement bias. Study 2 found that the extent of bias was positively correlated with pet attachment, pet-self similarity, and self-enhancement. Pet enhancement was also correlated with some indexes of subjective well-being but for only a subsample of participants. Pet-self similarity was more consistently related to well-being. Results are discussed in terms of their relevance to the potential psychological and physiological benefits that can be derived from people's perceptions of their pets.
Unlike most other disciplines, psychology parses its field primarily in terms of processes or mental entities (e.g., learning, sensation, perception, memory), rather than domains of life (e.g., eating, work, leisure). Although there are merits in this organization, a perhaps unintended result is that psychology has paid minimal attention to the major domains of life and how people function in them. Examination of contemporary major introductory, social, and developmental psychology textbooks reveals that their indexes include almost no terms representing five critical domains: food, politics, religion, leisure-entertainment, and work. The process division of psychology dates back at least to Wundt and James, and probably derives from psychology's origins and early dedication to discovering general laws of the mind. The avoidance of study of life domains in psychology is related to several forces, including a downgrading of both applied research and descriptive research in favor of theory and laboratory experimentation. Psychology would profit from paying greater attention to describing and explaining what people actually do, an endeavor that would perhaps be facilitated by a focus on the domains of daily life. © 2006 Association for Psychological Science.
Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) has been practiced for many years and there is now increasing interest in demonstrating its efficacy through research. To date, no known quantitative review of AAT studies has been published; our study sought to fill this gap. We conducted a comprehensive search of articles reporting on AAT in which we reviewed 250 studies, 49 of which met our inclusion criteria and were submitted to meta-analytic procedures. Overall, AAT was associated with moderate effect sizes in improving outcomes in four areas: Autism-spectrum symptoms, medical difficulties, behavioral problems, and emotional well-being. Contrary to expectations, characteristics of participants and studies did not produce differential outcomes. AAT shows promise as an additive to established interventions and future research should investigate the conditions under which AAT can be most helpful.
The psychological and cardiovascular influence of a friendly, unfamiliar dog on a group of 17 male students was compared to a group of men (19) who did not have access to the dog, during a stressor. Blood pressure and heart rate were measured during 4 test conditions (rest, preparation, speech task, recovery). State-anxiety was measured before and after the preparation and speech task. Subjects from the experimental group(E) but not from the control group(C) interacted with a dog during the preparation and speech tasks. The preparation and speech tasks caused statistically significant increases in cardiovascular parameters (blood pressure, heart rate) (F(12,22) = 17.60; p = 0.000), and state-anxiety (E-group: ¯xsta1 = 29.8; ¯xsta 2 = 47.9; t = -6.12; df = 16; p = 0.000, C-group: ¯xsta1 = 31.4; ¯xsta2 = 47,0; t = -5.68; df = 18; p = 0.000). No significant differences were found between the control and the experimental group with regard to state-anxiety anxiety (¯xc =15.6; ¯xe =-18.2; t = 0.63; df = 34; p = 0.533), blood pressure and heart rate (F(4,30) = 1.18; p = 0.338), even after controlling for the effects of daily stress (F(4,29) =1.427; p = 0.250). It is concluded that a friendly but unfamiliar dog has no significant psychological or cardiovascular effect on male students during a speech task in a laboratory setting. Possibly the stress of the speech task and the laboratory setting overrided the influence of the pet.
The purpose of this study was to learn more about the relationship between pet attachment, the ability to care for a pet, and depression in older adults. One hundred and seventeen Caucasian, older, adult dog owners in rural, south-central Pennsylvania were recruited using non-random sampling methods through veterinary offices and dog grooming salons in south-central Pennsylvania, USA. They completed an anonymous, self-administered questionnaire, which was returned by mail. Half of the respondents were female, 74% were married, and 27% were employed. Attachment to pet dogs was measured by the Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale. Regression analysis revealed that higher levels of pet attachment and widowhood were associated with higher levels of depression, and the ability to care for the dog and satisfaction with human relationships were associated with lower levels of depression. Higher levels of pet attachment may indicate that the pet plays a central role in the older adult's life and may substitute for human companionship.