Many households adopted or bought a pet during the pandemic to help counter loneliness and isolation. While the benefits of interaction with dogs, cats and other small companions are well known, researchers now claim that people who interacted with an animal during the pandemic were not necessarily any happier than others.
Researchers at Michigan State University in the United States came to this conclusion after assessing the wellbeing of 767 volunteers on three occasions in May 2020. They took into account various indicators of wellness and asked participants to reflect on the role pets played in their lives.
Most of those questioned said animals contributed to their happiness, providing affection and companionship, and also helped them to feel more positive emotions.
The volunteers also told scientists that having a pet brings many responsibilities. They spoke of the stress they felt at the thought of looking after a living creature, and the difficulties they encountered when they had to work from home with their furkid.
But these inconveniences seemed far less important than the benefits associated with sharing day-to-day life with a dog, cat, rabbit or bird.
Nevertheless, the scientists note that these benefits mostly take the form of anecdotal personal reports. “In our quantitative analyses, we found that pet ownership was not reliably associated with wellbeing,” the researchers wrote in their paper, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
“Our findings are consistent with a large body of research showing null associations of pet ownership on wellbeing (quantitatively) but positive reports of pet ownership (qualitatively).”
In other words, no single factor was identified as having an impact on the wellbeing of fur parents surveyed (type of animal, personality of the owners, degree of closeness they have with their pet, etc.). These results suggest that pets are no miracle cure for life’s ills or inconveniences.
“People say that pets make them happy, but when we actually measure happiness, that doesn’t appear to be the case,” said William Chopik, an associate professor in MSU’s Department of Psychology and co-author of the study.
“People see friends who are lonely or wanting companionship and they recommend getting a pet. But it’s unlikely it will be as transformative as people think,” he added (even though firsthand accounts as featured in FMT Lifestyle’s Pet Stories section may suggest otherwise).
That’s why it’s important to think twice before adopting or buying an animal. It’s a long-term commitment, which means asking yourself pragmatic questions about the budget required, or care arrangements for when you can’t be around.