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Are Pet Owners More Empathetic than Other People? What Science Says

Written by: Patricia Dickson

Last Updated on April 11, 2024 by Dogster Team

labradoodle dog and woman owner at the park

Are Pet Owners More Empathetic than Other People? What Science Says

We’ve all heard the claims that pet owners are more loving and empathetic than non-pet owners. Not only are they supposed to be more compassionate, but it’s also said that having a pet makes people healthier.

However, none of these claims have a basis in fact. We’ll go as far as to say that the research results have been somewhat mixed. So, are pet owners more empathetic than non-pet owners? Are they healthier and more loving towards animals? We’ll answer those questions and more below.

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What Is Empathy?

Empathy is the ability to show compassion, understand, and share the feelings of others. Empathetic people tend to put themselves in the situation of others and can sympathize with those in need better than someone who isn’t understanding.

Dog hugging owner
Image By: Bogdan Sonjachnyj, Shutetrstock

Studies and Research Show Compassion

Recent studies have shown that people who own pets now or even owned them when they were children scored higher on the empathy scale than non-pet owners. That is the same whether the people didn’t have animals at that time or had never owned one at any time in their lives as well.

Higher Empathy Levels When Owning Dogs or Cats

The same studies showed that adults who owned either a dog, cat, or both tended to be more compassionate and scored higher on the empathy level test that was given. It’s interesting to note that those adults who owned only dogs showed reduced stress levels compared to those who didn’t have a dog or cat as a pet at all.

Also, people who had recently owned a dog scored higher on having social skills than those who never had dogs or even those who only owned a cat.

cat snuggling with owner
Image Credit: cottonbro, Pexels

Lower Stress Levels When Owning Cats and Dogs As Children

On the other hand, those who said they had pets as children scored lower on personal stress levels if they fell into the dog-only or cat and dog category of ownership. They also scored higher for having social skills.

The conclusion of the study was that there’s a good case for linking owning a cat or dog to increased empathy and compassion.

Of course, if you’re a pet lover, any sign of abuse and neglect of an animal, whether it’s a cat, dog, or other living creature, upsets you. However, that’s not to say that those who don’t own pets or even like them that much don’t feel the same empathy, compassion, and anger towards someone who is hurting an animal.

It also doesn’t mean that non-pet owners don’t have the ability to be empathetic. In reality, how empathetic you are or how nice you are has more to do with the individual person than it does whether you own animals now or as a child.

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Final Thoughts

The question, “are pet owners more empathetic than other people,” is challenging to answer. While studies have shown that it’s possible, there are no concrete facts to back up that claim at the moment. Pet owners and non-pet owners have the capacity for empathy, and one group does not appear more compassionate than the other.

Featured Image Credit: Lopolo, Shutterstock

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