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Pet Owners May be Healthier - But Have They More Friends?

Originally Published 4 February 1999
Recent research has shown that people with pets have lowers risk factors for cardiovascular disease, lower incidence of minor ailments and better psychological well being. But now the question for experts is does owning a pet actually cause pet owners to be more healthy? A new study by researchers at the University of Warwick, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), has been looking into one possible factor - that pet ownership makes it easier for people to develop relationships outside the home thus extending their networks of friendships and preventing loneliness.

Dr Glyn Collis, one of the authors of the report, said

"It is well known among dog owners that they are more likely to initiate conversations when out walking their pet than when they are in the same situation without the dog. It has been suggested that this type of 'social catalyst' may increase networks of friends amongst pet owners and that the support from these people could enhance their health and well being."

To test this idea the Warwick researchers, Dr Glyn Collis and Dr June McNicholas, asked 52 dog owners, 44 cat owners and 43 non pet owners to list all the people with whom they had some kind of social relationship. This included people who lived in the same household, other relatives, friends, colleagues and casual acquaintances. Dr Collis said:-

"We found in general there were around 40 of these relationships per person we interviewed. There were no systematic differences between dog owners, cat owners and non pet owners either in the number of people they identified or how they were distributed across the categories of relationship. The conclusion of this part of the study was that there was no evidence to support the fact that ownership of either dogs or cats enlisted enhanced support from other people"

People were then asked about friendships they had made as a result of owning a pet, Not surprisingly, 40% of dog owners said they made friends easily as a result of having a dog. However, most of the friends they made were casual acquaintances and they often did not know them by name. Cat owners, on the other hand, reported far fewer social relationships arising out of owning a pet.

"We already know from other studies that non pet owners are not hindered in their networking because they meet other people socially as a result of hobbies and other leisure activities"
says Dr Collis.

The researchers then went on to measure various aspects of physical health and well being amongst all the participants in the study. Stress symptoms were lowest amongst cat owners, second lowest amongst dog owners and highest amongst non pet owners.

"The evidence shows that any advantages to health or well being associated with pet ownership has little to do with enhanced social contact as a result of having a pet" says Dr Collis.

For further information please contact:
Dr Glyn Collis, Department of Psychology
University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL
Tel: 024 76 523182 email:
June McNicholas, Department of Psychology, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL Tel: 024 76 523759 email: