The Positive Effects of Owning a Pet on Your Psyche
The prevalence and significance of pets is evidenced by the fact that there are roughly 77 million dogs and 93 million cats in the country.
In addition, it is widely believed that pets, such as dogs and disciplining a cat, play an important social function in their owners' life and can help reduce feelings of isolation. There is some evidence that having a pet not only has a favorable effect on people psychologically, but also has immediate material benefits (deterring robbers, lowering a vermin problem, etc.).
Findings from Studies of Pet Owners
According to studies (Friedman & Thomas, 1995), pet owners have a lower risk of dying within the next year after suffering a heart attack than those who do not own a pet (1% vs. 7%). Both Medicare recipients and HIV-positive males who owned dogs reported less depression than comparable men who did not have pets (Siegel, 1990; Siegel, Angulo, Detels, Wesch, & Mullen, 1999).
Individuals with significant physical disabilities (such as traumatic brain injury or spinal cord damage) who were given a service dog demonstrated gains in their well-being (such as increased self-esteem and a greater sense of control) within 6 months, but the wait-listed control group did not.
Numerous studies show that higher social support leads to better psychological and physical health (for example, Uchino, Cacioppo, & Kiecolt-Glaser, 1996). Pets may represent a form of social support for their owners. Poor social support is associated with an increase in death rates (House et al., 1988), whereas increased social support improves cardiovascular, endocrine, and immunological functions (Uchino et al., 1996).
As a matter of fact, many people in this world view their dogs as “close others” The majority of pet owners (50%) consider their pet to be “as much a part of the family as any other person in the household” (30%), and 25% of pet owners say their pet is a better listener than their spouse (10%).
Multiple studies show that close relationships with others have a positive effect on one's happiness and well-being, while feelings of social isolation or exclusion have the opposite effect (Williams, 2007). Therefore, if pets are as close to their owners as close friends or family are, they may bring the same psychological benefits.
Recent Research on Pets
Three recent research investigated the psychological advantages of having a pet, looking for both causes and mechanisms. What they found was:
Benefits to owners' mental health are amplified when their pets also help them meet their social demands.
People who have pets tend to be happier and more confident in themselves. They also tend to have more positive attachment patterns (i.e., be less fearful and preoccupied) and healthier personality traits (such as conscientiousness).
When pet owners' social needs were met, they reported lower levels of sadness, less loneliness, higher levels of self-esteem, and higher levels of enjoyment. These advantages occurred regardless of the owner's social and human capital.
persons who benefit much from their dogs also get closer to and receive greater support from other significant persons in their lives. This is also known as the “complement hypothesis,” which states that dogs do not replace but rather enhance existing networks of social support. Pets are not meant to replace human companionship in the absence of human companions; rather, they provide supplementary companionship.