FEB 99] UNIVERSITY OF WARWICK PRESS RELEASE
Pet Owners May Be Healthier
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.
"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" says Dr Glyn Collis, one
of the authors of the report.
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
"We found in general there were around 40 of these
relationships per person we interviewed" says Dr Collis. "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" he adds.
People were then asked about friendships they had made as a
result of owning a pet, Not surprisingly, 40% of dog owners aid 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 they 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.
Dr Glyn Collis, Department of
Psychology, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL Tel: 01203 523182
June McNicholas, Department of Psychology, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL Tel:
Peter Dunn, University Press Officer 01203 523708