Among homeless individuals, does owning a pet improve their mental health?



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PICO question

Among homeless individuals, does owning a pet improve their mental health?


Clinical bottom line

Category of research question

Qualitative assessment

The number and type of study designs reviewed

Fifteen (eight qualitative assessments, two cross-sectional quantitative studies, three qualitative/cross-sectional studies, and two scoping/systematic reviews)

Strength of evidence


Outcomes reported

Homeless individuals who own pets reported improvement in their mental health status by having fewer symptoms of depression, reduced feelings of loneliness, reduced stress, increased feelings of happiness, and decreased intentions of suicide, all as a result of owning a pet.

However, homeless individuals who own pets may suffer a decrease in mental health due to the loss or anticipated loss of their pet


It is concluded among qualitative and cross-sectional studies that there are clearly multiple benefits to mental health associated with pet ownership among homeless individuals. However, the lack of quantitative, longitudinal, and/or experimental studies in this topic prevents a causative relationship from being established and caution should be exercised when interpreting the results as pet ownership causing an improvement in mental health


How to apply this evidence in practice

The application of evidence into practice should take into account multiple factors, not limited to: individual clinical expertise, patient’s circumstances and owners’ values, country, location or clinic where you work, the individual case in front of you, the availability of therapies and resources.

Knowledge Summaries are a resource to help reinforce or inform decision making. They do not override the responsibility or judgement of the practitioner to do what is best for the animal in their care.


Open Access Peer Reviewed


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Johnson, T. P., Garrity, T. F. & Stallones, L. (1992). Psychometric Evaluation of the Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale (Laps). Anthrozoös. 5(3), 160–175. DOI:

Labrecque, J. & Walsh, C.A. (2011). Homeless Women’s Voices on Incorporating Companion Animals into Shelter Services. Anthrozoös. 24(1), 79–95. DOI:

Lem, M., Coe, J.B., Haley, D.B., Stone, E. & O’Grady, W. (2013). Effects of Companion Animal Ownership among Canadian Street-involved Youth: A Qualitative Analysis. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare. 40(4), 285–304. [online] Available from: [Accessed 1 Dec 2020]

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Scanlon, L., Hobson-West, P., Cobb, K., McBride, A. & Stavisky, J. (2021). Homeless People and Their Dogs: Exploring the Nature and Impact of the Human–Companion Animal Bond. Anthrozoös. 34(1), 77–92. DOI:

Schmitz, R.M., Carlisle, Z.T. & Tabler, J. (2021). “Companion, friend, four-legged fluff ball”: The power of pets in the lives of LGBTQ+ young people experiencing homelessness. Sexualities. DOI:

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Yang, H., Howarth, A., Hansen, S.R., Harrell, L. & Thatcher, C.D. (2020). Understanding the Attachment Dimension of Human-animal Bond within A Homeless Population: A One-Health Initiative in the Student Health Outreach for Wellness (SHOW) Clinic. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science. 24(4), 357–371. DOI:





Vol. 6 No. 4 (2021): The fourth issue of 2021

Section: Knowledge Summaries

Categories :  Small Animal  /  Dogs  /  Cats  /  Rabbits  /  Production Animal  /  Cattle  /  Sheep  /  Pig  /  Equine  /  Exotics  /