Do you have a pet, and do you think your animal companion makes your life happier? Today on World Animal Day, we release our findings that reveal just how much happiness pets can bring to our lives.
We asked 12,167 people similar questions and learned how much pets influence our lives. But what about the type of pets? Are dog owners happier than cat owners? What about hamsters?
Our large-scale study of 12,167 respondents has proof:
- Horse owners are the happiest compared to other pet owners.
- Pet owners are significantly happier than those who are petless.
- Happier people are more likely to want pets in the future.
- Dog owners are significantly happier than cat owners.
- Guinea pig owners are almost as unhappy as non-pet owners.
- People that got their pet during the pandemic are happier than those who already had theirs prior to the pandemic.
We want to celebrate animals and pets around the world. We asked our respondents to share pictures with their pets. Pictures speak louder than words, so if you're not convinced by the data in our study, we'll let the images do the talking.
Are pet owners happier?
We surveyed 12,167 respondents from around the world and asked them the following questions:
- If you look back at the last year of your life, how would you rate your happiness on a scale from 1 to 10?
- Does your household currently have a pet?
This resulted in the following data:
Pet owners are significantly happier than those who are petless.
- The 9,663 respondents with pets in their household scored an average happiness rating of 7.01.
- The 2,504 petless respondents scored significantly lower at 6.26.
Pet owners are +12% happier than people without pets.
The average happiness rating of all 12,167 respondents was 6.86.
Respondents were asked about their happiness before they found out the survey was about pets. We specifically did so to prevent any bias to influence the results of the survey.
Is happiness correlated to wanting future pets?
We asked our petless respondents whether or not they are planning to get a pet in the future, in addition to their happiness ratings.
This chart shows the answers:
A person's happiness is positively correlated to the likelihood of wanting a pet in the future.
Happier people are more likely to want pets in the future.
Whether this is a result of causation or simple correlation can not be determined with our data. Perhaps, a person that is both healthy and financially secure is more likely to be happier and want pets in the future.
Which pets are most popular?
We asked the pet owners in our survey what kind of pet(s) they have in their household.
The 9,663 pet owners in our survey listed 17,387 different types of pets. For example, one of the respondents claimed to have dogs, cats, horses and reptiles. We calculated that this owner has 4 different types of pets.
This means that the average pet owner in our survey has 1.80 different types of pets.
Based on this data, we've learned some statistics about the popularity of different pets:
- 79% of our respondents claimed to have at least one pet in their household.
- 74% of pet owners have a dog in their household.
- 51% of pet owners have a cat in their household.
- 20% of pet owners have a bird in their household.
- 19% of pet owners hold some type of fish.
- 5.6% of pet owners have a rabbit in their household.
- 3.6% of pet owners hold some type of reptile.
- 2.9% of pet owners have a horse as part of their household.
- 1.7% of pet owners have a hamster.
- 1.1% of pet owners have a ferret.
- 0.7% of pet owners have a guinea pig.
Pets listed under "Others" are goats, hedgehogs, aquatic snails, turtles and chinchillas, amongst others.
Which pets owners are the happiest?
Are dog owners happier than cat owners? What about horses? Or hamsters?
These are questions that - surprisingly - haven't been answered as of yet. Based on our large sample of 9.663 pet owners, here are the answers:
On average, horse owners are the happiest amongst our respondents with a happiness rating of 7.31.
Horse owners are the happiest pet owners, based on a survey of 12,167 respondents.
The average happiness ratings per type of pet are as follows:
- Horses: 7.37
- Dogs: 7.29
- Birds: 7.28
- Ferrets: 7.28
- Fish: 7.25
- Hamsters: 7.06
- Reptiles: 6.97
- Cats: 6.95
- Rabbits: 6.82
- Guinea pigs: 6.50
- Petless respondents: 6.26
As stated before, it's not clear whether this is a result of causation or simple correlation. Perhaps, a person that is able to own a horse is more likely to be healthy and financially secure and therefore to be happier.
Interestingly, all pet owners scored a higher average happiness rating compared to the petless respondents. Even the unhappiest pet owners - people that own guinea pigs - are happier than those without any pets at all.
Guinea pig owners are almost as unhappy as non-pet owners.
Dog owners averaged a significantly higher happiness score when compared to their feline counterparts. Compared to cat owners, dog owners are 5% happier than cat owners.
Dog owners are +5% happier than cat owners.
Of all the pet owners in our survey, those who had guinea pigs averaged the lowest happiness score with a 6.50 on a scale from 1 to 10. This is still higher than the average happiness rating of all 2,504 petless respondents.
More pets lead to more happiness?
Do you have more than one type of pet? If so, do you feel like your happiness is positively influenced by you having more than 1 pet?
Our data shows that the number of pets in a household is associated with a person's happiness.
Our data showed that happiness is positively correlated to the number of pets in a household. But the effect of having more types of pets diminishes for persons having 3 pets or more.
Pet diversity is correlated to happiness, based on a survey of 12,167 respondents.
As noted before, it is unclear whether this increase in happiness is causal or a simple correlation. It's easy to imagine that people who are in a position to have more pets are also financially prosperous, in good health, secure and in a safe environment. These are all factors that are proven to be correlated with happiness as well. Therefore, the exact impact of having more pets on a person's happiness remains unclear.
What about pandemic pets?
It's been widely reported that the demand for pets has increased significantly since the start of the pandemic.
This is clearly supported by Google Search Trends for the term "Buy a dog".
We asked our survey respondents:
- Did your pet join your household during the pandemic?
Our data suggests that owners of "pandemic pets" are happier than those who already owned their pets prior to the pandemic.
The happiness ratings differed significantly for respondents that got their pet(s) after the start of the worldwide pandemic in March 2020.
- 4,565 respondents got their pets during the pandemic. They averaged a score of 7.36 on the happiness scale.
- 5,098 respondents already had their pets prior to the pandemic. They averaged a score of 6.70 on the happiness scale.
Both groups are happier than the average petless respondent.
People that got their pet during the pandemic are happier than those who already had theirs prior to the pandemic.
Is this perhaps a result of hedonic adaptation? In other words, is there a "freshness" factor when it comes to getting a new pet? Studies have shown that a person's happiness slowly returns to a stable baseline level after a positive change in circumstances. Based on our data, we can't tell whether or not the difference in happiness actually has something to do with the pandemic.
Know your responsibility towards pets
During the pandemic, we've seen an alarming increase in reports of animal abuse and abandonment. This has been reported by outlets such as the Conversation. Many people wanted to alleviate the boredom and stress of sitting at home and found a solution by getting a pet.
However, pets are sentient beings, meaning that they want to live a long and happy life just as much as you do.
As much as pets can experience joy, happiness and love, so are they able to experience suffering, sadness and heartbreak. It's your responsibility - as a pet owner - to take care of your pet as you would like to be taken care of by others.
If you want to enrich your household with a pet, be prepared to commit.
Commentary from the team:
Hugo Huijer, Founder of Tracking Happiness
No matter if you own a dog, cat, snake or a goldfish, we want to celebrate all positive relationships between humans and animals. Our results show that pets can bring happiness to our lives, which is something we shouldn't take for granted.
So before you finish reading this study and run out to the nearest pet shop or animal shelter, our team wants to share this message:
As pet owners, we carry a responsibility. Animals want to live a happy and secure life just as much as we do. It's not a pet's responsibility to make the owner happy, it's the other way around. It's our responsibility as pet owners to make sure our pets live happy and safe lives.
World Animal Day is a special occasion to celebrate positive relationships between animals and humans. But your responsibility as a pet owner doesn't stop after this day. Your responsibility as a pet owner lasts for the rest of the pet's life.
Be prepared to commit.
If you're curious to learn more about our methodology, here's a link to our study appendix that explains it all (opens in a new window):
Fair use and redistribution
Tracking Happiness grants you permission to reuse, host, or repost the graphics and images from this article. When doing so, we ask that you kindly attribute the authors by linking to Tracking Happiness or this page.
At Tracking Happiness, our aim is to highlight things to be grateful for. While celebrating World Animal Day, we hope the release of this study helps you celebrate the presence of your pet, whether your pet is an aquatic snail, a chinchilla, hamster or a parrot.
What’s your main takeaway from today’s study? Do you have a question about something from the analysis? Leave a comment below to let us know.