Owning a pet is very rewarding. But as with any relationship, it comes with its own pros and cons.
It’s a given that a pet parent would give their all to their fur children. The love between both parties is immeasurable, but a new study claims that having a strong relationship with your dog can actually impair your mental health.
In an article published in the Frontiers of Psychology journal, researchers found out that a strong relationship between dog and owner gives a greater feeling of emotional support and companionship, but it is also associated with increased levels of anxiety and depression.
As with any pet parent out there, you can’t help but fear the inevitable, especially if you own an older dog. I even once had such fa bad dream about it that I woke up sobbing and immediately sought out my fur baby.
And that is, perhaps, a solid example of what the researchers found out in their study.
Having a strong relationship with your dog makes it more devastating to even actually think about the eventual loss and the awaiting grief it brings.
“As someone who has owned numerous dogs who I believe have added happiness to my life, but also added stress and anxiety, I knew that the reality was more complex. I have also spent a long time helping owners of dogs with behavioral problems, who clearly find owning their dog very challenging,” Carri Westgarth, the study’s co-author, said.
But what the researchers emphasize is that an owner’s mental health is most associated with the burden of dog ownership. The burden isn’t necessarily for a selfish reason, rather they meant the responsibility and the ability to meet a dog’s needs, which is tough work.
The study used data from 1,693 dog owners, and they were asked to complete a questionnaire that included questions about their dogs, their physical and mental health, and demographics. Open-ended questions such as their reasons for getting a dog and how they think their dogs affect their mental health are included in the questionnaire.
The results they gathered showed that the people who had more interactions with their dogs had worse depression and higher levels of anxiety.
“The burden of responsibility that comes from feeling the need to care for that dog can be overwhelming and prevent owners from socializing with other people as much as they may have done before,” the researchers added.
Although the study itself provided some link between an owner’s mental well-being and their relationships with their dogs, they wrote that an important limitation of their study is that they used self-reported replies rather than objective measures of mental well-being.
“It may be that people who are closer to their dogs are more inclined to develop mental health difficulties, or those who already have depression or anxiety are more likely to get a dog in order to manage its symptoms and/or are more inclined toward becoming more strongly emotionally attached to their dogs,” the researchers wrote in their article.
“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,” they concluded.