Does Pet Ownership Help or Harm Your Well-Being?

3 min read
lindsrw / Pixabay

Source: lindsrw / Pixabay

While pets can be a source of happiness, provide companionship, and become “one of the family,” they can also cause stress and strain. A recent study examined the relationship between pet ownership and owners’ well-being (Chopik et al., 2023).

This study looked at pet ownership and several measures of well-being, with the data collected during the pandemic. Surprisingly, there was no association between owning a pet and overall well-being, based on the quantitative data. When participants were asked to reflect on owning a pet, they responded positively rather than negatively.

What Is Happening?

While many find their lives enriched by their pets, others may find pet ownership a burden that may lower their well-being. These different experiences may cancel each other out, leading to no overall effect of pet ownership on well-being. Let’s look at pet ownership’s positives and negatives to understand better.

The Positives

Companionship. A pet can serve as a companion. It can reduce feelings of loneliness and social isolation. Many pet owners talk about the positive feelings they experience when returning home to a pet who is overjoyed to see them. One woman mentioned that she “takes her pet everywhere. We share our daily experiences. I seldom feel as if I’m alone.”

My wife—a genuine “pet person”—is never happier than having her cats share the sofa while she reads or watches TV.

Nurturance. Pet ownership allows some people to care for and nurture a pet who benefits from their owner’s devotion. Some pet owners who have decided not to have children say that raising a pet serves a similar purpose: caring for and nurturing another living being.

Protection. Some dog owners rely on their pets for protection (in addition to other reasons). However, any pet can provide a sense of psychological safety and security.

Therapy. Pets, ranging from birds to dogs to horses, have been used to assist in therapeutic interventions.

The Negatives

Stress. In the same way that parenting can be stressful due to worrying about a child’s health, safety, and normal development, pet owners can experience a similar source of stress. Some owners find they are not psychologically ready to care for a pet. Others realize that they don’t have the time to devote to pet care (both reasons why so many pets are abandoned or given up for adoption, unfortunately).

Finances. Owning a pet can be a significant financial commitment. The cost of food, veterinary services, licensing, grooming, and boarding (not to mention pet toys) can strain a family’s budget.

Grief. With a relatively short life expectancy, pet owners will likely lose their or multiple pets. The sense of grief for a lost pet can take a psychological toll, which is one reason why many pet owners resolve not to replace their pets.

Pet Ownership and Well-Being Explained

Returning to the research, a major reason there is no across-the-board relationship between pet ownership and well-being is that too many other variables come into play. For every owner whose pet contributes to their happiness and positive psychological adjustment, another owner’s experience with pet ownership was largely negative.

As in many instances, individual differences, both in the pet owner and the pet, can determine if well-being is enhanced or hindered by the experience.

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