Of all Americans who were unemployed in 2020/21, 62% have a pet.

Margin of error = ±8.1%

Pet Ownership Linked to Depression

by Megan K. Mueller and Erin K. King

Utilizing the Tufts Equity Research Group data, investigators at Tufts University recently published an article in Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine that explores the relationship between pet owners and health.

Among the findings of the study:

  • People who own pets are more likely to be depressed. In fact, dog and cat ownership is associated with doubled odds of having depression, and this effect is stronger when we adjust for demographic/contextual variables.
  • For participants who are unemployed, having a dog is associated with twice the odds of having depression compared to those with no dog. However, for participants who are employed, dog ownership is not associated with any differences in the odds of having depression.
  • Pet ownership is not associated with overall health status or Body Mass Index, but dog ownership is associated with higher levels of physical activity.
  • People of all income levels own cats and dogs at similar rates, but residents of multifamily buildings are less likely to own dogs than residents of single-family houses. Rural residents are more likely than urban residents to own pets.
  • Families with children are more likely to own pets, and dogs in particular.

The survey cannot directly explain why pet ownership is associated with depression. It could be that individuals who have depression and who are unemployed seek out dog ownership as a way of providing needed social support. Alternatively, perhaps the strain of caring for a dog when unemployed exacerbated feelings of depression. These findings also suggest that individuals who are unemployed and are experiencing depression may benefit from specific interventions, perhaps ensuring that they have adequate support to care for their dog while seeking employment, or helping them leverage their relationship with their dog to support improved mental health.