Have you ever felt that your cat or dog is more of a friend than a pet? Good news…you're not crazy! Pets really do give us some of the benefits we get from friends and other strong social relationships. Researchers from the Universities of Miami and St. Louis examined the effects that pets have on their people, and found that pet owners considered themselves just as close with their pets as they did with their close (human) friends. Previous studies have investigated the benefits pets bring to owners facing health-related problems. In this case, the researchers completed three experiments to understand the benefits of pets for the general population.
• One experiment surveyed 217 people, comparing pet owners and nonowners in the areas of well-being, personality type, and attachment style. Pet owners were happier, healthier, and better adjusted than those without pets.
• A second study involved 56 dog owners. The data showed strong evidence that pet owners felt increased feelings of belonging, self-esteem, and meaningful existence when their pet fulfilled their social needs.
• A third study was conducted with 97 undergraduate students. Participants were first told to write about a time they felt excluded. They then were told to write about a pet or a friend, or draw a map of their campus. The study found that the two writing options—whether about pets or friends—were equally effective in easing feelings of rejection.
Lead researcher Allen R. McConnell, PhD, of Miami University in Ohio, summarized the findings with this statement: “Pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extraverted, tended to be less fearful, and tended to be less preoccupied than nonowners.”
The researchers also reported finding no evidence that being close with a pet impeded other relationships, or that the subjects relied more on their pets for social support.
A pet prescription can remedy all sorts of problems, says animal expert Arden Moore. Spending time around animals, such as going bird watching, enjoying the company of a therapy dog, or even playing with your pet spider can be beneficial to your well-being. “There’s something about the animal kingdom that possesses the ability for us to enjoy life a little better,” says Moore, author of more than 20 pet books and radio host of Oh Behave, an online Pet Life Radio show. Read on for five reasons to include some animal time in your day.