Dog owners may have higher risks of anxiety, depression

Credit: Jamie Street/ Unsplash

It is often believed that a close relationship between owners and their dogs can bring many mental health benefits to owners.

But in a study from the University of Liverpool, scientists found that a stronger dog–owner relationship was linked to greater feelings of emotional support and companionship but poorer levels of anxiety or depression.

In the study, the researchers surveyed 1,693 adult dog owners in the UK to examine whether dog owners with stronger relationships with their dogs experience better mental health.

They found positive impacts on owner well-being and happiness through providing purpose, companionship and self-acceptance, pleasure and distraction, as well as lessening emotional pain and suffering.

For example, dogs were mentioned as a useful aid for dealing with mental health symptoms, such as suicidal thoughts.

However, the negative impacts of a strong relationship included anticipatory grief over the loss of the dog and concerns regarding the burden of responsibility and ability to meet the dog’s needs.

The researchers found that it was this perceived ‘burden’ of dog ownership that was most closely associated with owners’ mental well-being.

A lower perceived burden was beneficially associated with all mental health outcomes, including lower anxiety and depression, and also was found to be important in our qualitative explorations.

So it is important for future research and practical interventions to address issues that lead to a sense of burden created by owning and caring for a dog.

While further research is needed, the authors suggest that ensuring the right help is in place for owners is the key to a healthy dog–owner relationship that supports the owner’s mental well-being.

This includes access to affordable veterinary care and dog training, walking, and boarding services, access to pet-friendly housing and dog-supportive environments, and mental health support for people who may be struggling with anticipatory grief or who may have recently lost a pet, particularly for those with limited social support.

If you care about mental health, please read studies that vegetarian diet may increase your depression risk, and Vitamin D could help reduce depression symptoms.

For more information about mental health, please see the recent about why pizza is a very addictive food, and MIND diet could improve cognitive health in older people.

The research was published in Frontiers in Psychology and conducted by Dr. Carri Westgarth et al.

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