A study led by the University of Western Australia has found a positive correlation between mental health benefits and dog ownership.
Cui et al examined the longitudinal effect of dog ownership and dog walking on mental health.
Mental health disorders are a common problem worldwide, contributing to 14% of the global burden of disease.
People have long believed that animals, particularly dogs, are a source of support and a buffer for stress. However, most of the research has focused on the benefits to our physical rather than mental health.
In the new study, Dr. Hayley Christian from the University of Western Australia and her colleagues from the University of Melbourne and RMIT University examined the effect of dog ownership on mental health over a two-year period.
Data from a cohort of 1,023 participants taking part in the RESIDential Environments project, in Perth, Western Australia were collected through surveys to measure mental health (stress and depression), dog ownership status and weekly minutes of dog walking.
“The study found dogs had beneficial effects on our stress levels,” Dr. Christian said.
“Dogs entice us to become more active and build strong and healthy relationships and networks with people in the community when we are out walking them. Their companionship is also great for our mental health.”
“Some of the limitations of the study were that the sample size was relatively small and there are many factors at play that affect our mental health which are hard to separate,” she added.
“It will be important for future studies to examine the extent to which dogs affect our mental health including how a change in pet ownership status might impact mental health across different stages of our lives.”
The study was published in the Journal of Public Health.
Y. Cui et al. Longitudinal evidence of the impact of dog ownership and dog walking on mental health. Journal of Public Health, published online November 6, 2019; doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdz094