Are Pet Owners Really Happier?

The rush to pet stores, shelters and breeders at the start of the pandemic was certainly driven by the tenacious idea that owning a pet promotes well-being, and even more so in times of isolation. During the sad series of intermittent covid confinements, Quebecers have added approximately 200,000 cats and dogs to the three million already existing in their homes.

A university study is being done during the health crisis, however, partially debunks this belief linking animals and well-being.

The questionnaire survey conducted in Canada shows that pet owners report lower average well-being than other people. The effect appears even more negative for people very busy with work at home, especially women and people with two children, but also for the unemployed.

There would therefore have been an effect of overloading responsibilities or hassles during confinement and teleworking, as if the pet added worries. In addition, small animals can lead to large expenses between visits to the veterinarian and the purchase of food.

“We wanted to test the popular belief that the presence of pets is fairly uniformly beneficial to humans,” explains Catherine Amiot, professor at UQAM and co-signer of the survey published this spring in Scientific reports. “Our results are very nuanced, actually. Animals have helped some people during the pandemic, of course. One animal does not necessarily have the same effect on everyone; this effect must be understood by looking at the context of people’s lives or the species of the domestic animal. We carried out this survey with a very open mind to see what is happening, without any preconceptions. »

The scientific literature goes in different directions. Some studies show that pet owners feel better; others make no such connection; still others have established that pet owners have poorer mental health than those without.

“In our survey, pet owners report poorer well-being than non-owners,” continues Professor Amiot. This is not a scientific bombshell: previous studies had obtained similar results and studies also obtained during COVID came to the same conclusion. Our in-depth study on the other hand the impact of socio-demographic strata. »

In the pan-Canadian survey, well-being is identified by self-assessments based on certain indicators, such as vitality, feelings of loneliness, level of stress or life satisfaction.

For men and people without children, owning a pet or not does not change anything. People who have at least one dog in the home reported more vitality and higher life satisfaction. Having a cat does not change anything, neither positively nor negatively. On the other hand, owning and caring for a pet brings more happiness to young people aged 18 to 24.

A social psychologist by training, Professor Amiot has extensively extended group processes, discrimination, prejudice and human motivation. Over time, she has found that many elements of her specialty also apply to the relationship between humans and animals. Intergroup relations theory, for example, can shed light on the nature of our ties to them.

On a more personal note, she says she had a large black Labrador for a long time. “He was very energetic,” she recalls. It got me thinking about the place pets have in our lives. »

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