Pets don’t cure loneliness: study
Debunking one of our most cherished beliefs about companion animals, a new Canadian study finds that dog owners who live alone, and have limited human social support, are actually just as lonely as their petless peers in the same circumstances.
Perhaps even more surprising, the Carleton University researchers found that among single-dwellers with insufficient social ties, high attachment to a dog or cat increased the pet-owner’s likelihood of loneliness and depression.
The study’s authors, both of whom own dogs, say the message — unpopular though it may be — is that pets aren’t people and can’t compensate for a lack of human relationships.
“Pet ownership isn’t the panacea we think it is,” says co-author Timothy Pychyl, an associate professor of psychology at the Ottawa-based university.
“So many people will say, ‘If you’re living on your own and feeling lonely, get a dog.’ But the research indicates that pets don’t fill as much of a hole as we might believe they do. If you don’t have human social support already on your side, you’re still going to fall short.”
Between 1941 and 2006, the percentage of people living alone in Canada ballooned from six per cent to 27 per cent. Worldwide, one-person households are expected to continue increasing at a faster rate than any other type of household.
The single-dwellers in the Carleton study, published in the journal Anthrozoos, ranged in age from 22 to 78; 37 was the mean age for pet-owners, and 41 for non-owners.
Among those with high levels of social support, dog owners were indeed less lonely than non-dog owners (though this finding didn’t hold true for people with cats). It was only in the absence of human networks that the limitations of this companion animal emerged.
People with limited community connections, for example, were more likely to humanize their dog — and those who engaged in this type of anthropomorphism were more depressed, visited the doctor more often and took more medications. Pychyl suggests this is because people who treat their pets like family will go out of their way to nurture the relationship, often at the expense of their personal lives.
“It changes your ability to be in a social network in the same way as other people,” says Pychyl. “We all know that pets can be there for us. But if that’s all you have, you run into trouble.”
Nikolina Duvall Antonacopoulos, a PhD candidate at Carleton and co-author of the study, says they were particularly surprised that cat-ownership appears to have no significant emotional effect on people living alone. She suggests the fact that cats don’t need to be walked might play a role in that.
Antonacopoulos notes that the physical activity of dog-walking stands to improve overall well-being, while the dog itself can act as a social catalyst, drawing the owner into interactions with other people. But because only 20 to 40 per cent of dog owners actually walk their dogs on a regular basis, she says more research is needed to support this conclusion.
I chose this article because many people still believe the theory that hey, if you’re lonely, go get a dog ! This article proves that even if you have an animal companion, you’re still just as lonely as you were without it. I mean sure, you can take your dog for a walk, get some exercise and have some social interaction but at the end of the day, all you have is a dog. Thats not much to look forward to. You can only feel whole for a little while after you get a pet, but after that, you begin to feel the same lonelyness.