Differences in Self Esteem Between Cat Owners, Dog Owners and People Without Pets
Owning a pet provides social support and may help to contribute towards a person’s self-esteem. To date there is limited knowledge on the link between keeping a pet and self-esteem.
There is a basic human need to be attached to somebody and a need for a sense of belonging. In cases of social isolation, this human need could be transferred to having a human-pet attachment. Owning a pet has been shown to be associated with several positive health outcomes when people face a serious health condition, and that owning a pet, especially later in life, means people have better psychosocial health and less symptoms of depression and loneliness. The benefits of owning a pet include general happiness and life satisfaction, and there is evidence supporting the association of social support with benefits related to cardiovascular, endocrine and immune function, as well as self-esteem. Self-esteem is a significant predictor for psychological diseases such as anxiety or depression. Whist the evidence of owning a pet increasing self-esteem has been shown in preadolescents and young adults, the question is whether this applies to adults as well.
One study has shown that animal assisted therapy may help to increase self-esteem in people suffering from depressive and other psychiatric disorders. Another study found that pet owners tend to have higher self-esteem than non-pet owners in general. However there is no study focusing on older people who may be susceptible to low self-esteem due to lack of social support. The question is whether pets contribute towards an owner’s self-esteem through social support, and whether people of both genders benefit to the same degree, as well as differences between having either cats or dogs as pets.
The aim of this study is to determine whether older cat owners, older dog owners and people without pets differ in terms of self-esteem. A large survey of people aged 40 and over living in Germany contributed towards this study. In the drop-off questionnaire, the Rosenberg scaled was used to assess general self-esteem. The scale consists of 10 items, and in each case a response of 1 = strongly agree to 4 – strongly disagree was used. People owning one or more pets were then asked whether they owned one or more cat/s, one or more dog/s and other pets. Cat owners were defined as owning one or more cats but no other pets, and the same for dog owners as owning one or more dogs but no other pets. Other factors taken into account were socioeconomic, lifestyle and health related variables.
The results of the studies were as follows:
- The mean age was 65.4 years with 50.7% being female
- 1% of dogs owners were female and 49.5% of non-owners were female
- Amongst all the females, 16.0% owned cats, 9.2% owned dogs and 74.7% owned no pets
- Among all males, 12.3% owned cats, 9.5% owned dogs and 78.3 % owned no pets
- The mean self-esteem score was 3.4 among dog owners, cats owners and non-owners both female and male
- Dog owners reported significant higher self-esteem scores compared to people without pets
- Cat owners reported marginally lower self-esteem scores compared to people without pets
- Male dog owners reported higher self-esteem scores to men without pets
- Female cat owners reported significantly lower self-esteem scores to women without pets
The above findings were mainly driven by people aged 65 years and older.
Several reasons for the relationship between pet ownership and self-esteem are possible. The reactions of others such as family and friends can affect self-esteem, and if owning a pet is associated with a positive image, the owner may receive positive feedback when they are seen with their pet. The behaviour of pets may also play a role. Dogs are considered pack animals, and may consider their owners to be part of their pack. A cat on the other hand is not a pack animal by nature and behaves more independently, rather than being as affectionate and devoted as a dog would be.
Dogs may also increase their owners physical activity levels and well as increase the opportunity for social interactions with others when out during a dog walk. Social interactions may increase the chance for social support as well as attachment to others which then increases self-esteem, as does physical activity. Cats on the other hand do not leave the house and if they do so, they do it without their owners needing to accompany them.
The results of this study showed a link between owning a cat and lower self-esteem for women, as well as between owning a dog and higher self-esteem for the total sample and for men. Further studies should focus on investigating the underlying mechanisms and are needed to understand the link between animal ownership and self-esteem.
Link to full original research article:
Front. Vet. Sci., 2 September 2020