New research by the University of Western Australia shows that pet owners are more likely to meet new people and make meaningful friendships. The findings suggest a practical way to address the social isolation and loneliness experienced by many Australians.
The Pet Factor study shows pet owners are significantly more likely to get to know people in their neighborhood than non-pet owners. 53.4% of Australian pet owners who took part in the study said they got to know people in the neighborhood as a direct result of their pet. A quarter (24.7%) regarded at least one person met through their pet as a friend. The results were consistent with three US cities also included in the study.
Dogs were found to be especially good at helping people become part of the community. Dog owners were five times more likely to get to know people in their neighborhood compared with other pet owners. However people owning a wide variety of pets also reported meeting and getting to know people through their pet.
The study, conducted in collaboration with the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, owned by Mars, concludes that pets may be an important factor in developing healthy neighborhoods and a way to address social isolation experienced by some individuals.
Lead author of the Pet Factor study, Associate Professor Lisa Wood from The University of Western Australia, said: 'We know from other research that strong social support networks are good for both mental and physical health, and so we looked at the capacity of pets to foster this in our study. We found that around 40% of pet owners reported receiving one or more types of social support from someone they met through their pet – this ranged from someone they could talk to about problems or things that were worrying them, through to being able to ask someone for advice or practical help."
'Pets can be an ice-breaker when meeting someone new and a talking point with friends or acquaintances, which gives pet owners a wider social network and a greater sense of community," said Prof Wood.
'With loneliness and social isolation a major problem in Australia, pet ownership may be one way to help those who feel alone. Pets create opportunities for interpersonal interactions that can lead to deep, human friendships," said Prof Wood.
The study involved a telephone based survey of over 2500 randomly selected adults aged 18 and over from four cities, including: Perth (Australia); San Diego, CA; Portland, OR; and, Nashville, TN (US). The study, entitled -The Pet Factor - Companion Animals as a Conduit for Getting to Know People, Friendship Formation and Social Support' has been published in the peer-reviewed scientific publication, PLOS ONE www.plosone.org.
The WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, owned by Mars, has been a leading scientific authority on pet nutrition and wellbeing for fifty years. In 2013 alone, Waltham published 39 peer reviewed scientific papers.