Pets of All Kinds May Help Make Social Connections

Animal ownership is found to be significant in encouraging conversations and new friendships


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Apparently, dogs aren't the only pets that can be man's best friend. While it's obvious that walking a dog can lead to conversations and help people form friendships, an April 2015 study has found that all kinds of pets — cats, rabbits, even lizards — can be a catalyst for making friends and finding social support.

Previous studies have shown that dogs often serve as icebreakers to help spur conversations between pet owners and strangers or casual acquaintances, but not much research has been done into whether pets of all kinds can help people form friendships.

For this study, researchers conducted a telephone survey of nearly 2,700 men and women in the cities of Perth, Australia; San Diego; Portland, Ore.; and Nashville.

They found that pet owners were more likely to get to know people in their neighborhood than were people without pets, and that about 40 percent of pet owners said they received some type of social support from those they met through their pets — that is, they provided help, advice, useful information or empathy.

"Pet ownership appears to be a significant factor for facilitating social interaction and friendship formation within neighborhoods," wrote the study authors, led by Lisa Wood of the University of Western Australia, in the journal PLOS ONE.

Survey respondents said owning a pet was the most common way they met new people, after meeting neighbors and getting to know people through contact on local streets or at parks. Dogs were the most common pets in all four cities, followed by cats, fish and birds, and then a menagerie of turtles, lizards, guinea pigs, hamsters and other critters.

Dog owners were five times as likely to get to know people in their neighborhood than pet owners overall, the authors wrote, and those who walked their dogs were more likely to meet people through their pets than other dog owners.

"I tend to talk to people who I wouldn't normally talk to," a male respondent in Portland told the researchers. "Without the dog, I wouldn't speak to them."

The study builds on a growing body of research that finds a connection between human health and pets — especially dogs.

"For pet owners, this also translates into new sources of social support, both of a practical and emotionally supportive nature," the researchers wrote.

Pet ownership is a serious responsibility, of course, but science shows that pets also provide real health benefits to their owners.

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