Companion Animals, Well-Being, And Life Satisfaction
Living with companion animals is common around the world, and many people anecdotally discuss the benefits of being an animal guardian. However, while it’s clear that animals benefit from being given shelter and care, research on the upsides for human guardians aren’t always clear. This is especially the case when discussing the psychological advantages of animal guardianship, such as well-being and life satisfaction.
The authors of this study surveyed animal guardians to explore how their relationship quality and the perceived social support they receive from their animals affect their psychological well-being and life satisfaction. The study used four different scales to measure people’s experiences: perceived social support from humans and animals, the quality of their relationship with their companion animals, their overall psychological well-being, and how satisfied they were with their lives. The researchers collected responses from 89 cat guardians and 149 dog guardians via an online survey.
When the authors viewed the effects of social support and life satisfaction without looking at other factors, they found that respondents who perceived higher amounts of social support from their companion animals had higher life satisfaction levels than those who perceived lower amounts of social support. However, when other factors like age, education, COVID-19 restrictions, relationship status, and perceived human support were considered, the relationship between perceived animal support and life satisfaction was no longer significant.
Furthermore, when respondents reported a strong emotional bond with their companion animals, the relationship between perceived social support and life satisfaction grew weaker. The authors couldn’t confirm why this was the case, but they hypothesized that people who are close with their animals may distance themselves from humans or place unrealistic expectations on their companion animals to improve their lives, in turn reducing their overall satisfaction.
Finally, having more companion animals was associated with higher levels of psychological well-being compared to having fewer animals, even when other demographic and human support factors were taken into account (although the effect size was small). The authors wonder whether the presence of companion animals may improve people’s positive functioning, but they call for further research on this finding.
The researchers didn’t study non-guardians, so it wasn’t possible to make comparisons between people who live with companion animals and those who don’t. They also noted that overall levels of perceived social support, relationship quality, and life satisfaction were high among their respondents, which may have affected the results.
The effect that companion animals have on their guardians remains a complex topic that isn’t fully understood. It’s important for animal advocates to remind guardians that while animal adoption can be a rewarding and positive experience, we shouldn’t place unrealistic demands on our companion animals to single-handedly improve our lives and well-being.