A study of high school and university students in Japan reported that female (but not male) cat and dog owners tend to be a bit more involved with their families compared to non-owners. This involvement might, in turn, lead to greater well-being. The study was published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science.
The period of adolescence and early adulthood is a time of significant change, marked by numerous physical and psychological transitions. It is also a stage when many mental health issues first emerge. Research indicates that mental health problems during this period strongly predict mental health issues in young adulthood and later in life.
During adolescence, individuals begin to form extensive social relationships beyond their family connections. These social relationships are crucial for mental health, offering emotional support, companionship, and a sense of belonging. Such connections can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being. Strong social bonds are associated with lower rates of mental health disorders, increased resilience, and a better capacity to handle life’s challenges.
Numerous studies have found that a relationship with an animal, such as pet ownership, may also play a protective role. These studies generally suggest that the well-being of pet owners is, on average, somewhat better than that of non-pet owners.
Study author Hikari Koyasu and colleagues aimed to investigate whether this protective effect is also present in Japanese adolescents. They theorized that pet ownership could enhance adolescents’ well-being and increase their general trust, which they describe as a belief in the benevolence of human nature. The researchers conducted an online survey, noting that general trust is low in Japan.
The survey involved 2,845 high school and university students recruited by Cross Marketing Inc. Participants provided demographic data, family composition, and pet ownership details. They also completed assessments for cultural estrangement – how their values align with their family and environment (using the Cultural Estrangement Inventory, CEI), subjective well-being (using the Five Well-Being Index, WHO-5), general trust, family involvement, and community involvement.
The results indicated that dog owners generally had lower well-being and general trust than non-owners. However, both dog and cat owners showed higher levels of family and community involvement than non-owners. Females were more involved with their families than males, while males were more involved with their communities.
The study authors tested a statistical model to examine the relationships between various factors in the study. Among other hypotheses, the model suggested that owning a dog or cat increases family involvement, which in turn, could lead to better well-being. The results confirmed that this relationship model is plausible for females but not for males. In this model, family involvement was associated with greater well-being, but not with increased general trust. Greater community involvement was linked to higher general trust in both males and females.
“This study revealed that late adolescent women who owned a dog or cat had high involvement with their family, which resulted in higher well-being. However, no significant effects were observed among men,” the study authors concluded.
The study makes a valuable contribution to understanding the relationships between pet-ownership and mental health. However, the relationships between family involvement and dog/cat ownership were very weak. Also, pairwise association between well-being and dog/cat ownership was negative indicating a bit lower well-being of dog/cat owners compared to non-owners.
The study, “Ownership of dogs and cats leads to higher levels of well-being and general trust through family involvement in late adolescence”, was authored by Hikari Koyasu, Sakura Ogasawara, Takefumi Kikusui, and Miho Nagasawa.