Among homeless individuals, does owning a pet improve their mental health?
Clinical bottom line
Category of research question
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
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
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.
Brewbaker, E.J. (2012). The experience of homelessness and the human-companion animal bond : a quantitative study : a project based upon an investigation at San Francisco Community Clinic Consortium/Veterinary Street Outreach Services, San Francisco, California. Theses, Dissertations,and Projects. Smith College, Northampton, MA. [online] Available from: https://scholarworks.smith.edu/theses/869 [Accessed 1 Dec 2020]
Cleary, M., Visentin, D., Thapa, D.K., West, S., Raeburn, T. & Kornhaber, R. (2020). The homeless and their animal companions: an integrative review. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research. 47(1), 47–59. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10488-019-00967-6
Cleary, M., West, S., Visentin, D., Phipps, M., Westman, M., Vesk, K. & Kornhaber, R. (2021). The Unbreakable Bond: The Mental Health Benefits and Challenges of Pet Ownership for People Experiencing Homelessness. Issues in Mental Health Nursing. 42(8), 741–746. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/01612840.2020.1843096
Howe, L. & Easterbrook, M. J. (2018). The perceived costs and benefits of pet ownership for homeless people in the UK: practical costs, psychological benefits and vulnerability. Journal of Poverty. 22(6), 486–499. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/10875549.2018.1460741
Hughes, M.E., Waite, L.J., Hawkley, L.C. & Cacioppo, J.T. (2004). A Short Scale for Measuring Loneliness in Large Surveys: Results From Two Population-Based Studies. Research on Aging. 26(6), 655–672. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0164027504268574
Kerman, N., Gran-Ruaz, S. & Lem, M. (2019). Pet ownership and homelessness: a scoping review. Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless. 28(2), 106–114. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/10530789.2019.1650325
Kidd, A.H. & Kidd, R.M. (1994). Benefits and Liabilities of Pets for the Homeless. Psychological Reports. 74(3), 715–722. DOI: https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.19188.8.131.525
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: https://doi.org/10.2752/089279392787011395
Labrecque, J. & Walsh, C.A. (2011). Homeless Women’s Voices on Incorporating Companion Animals into Shelter Services. Anthrozoös. 24(1), 79–95. DOI: https://doi.org/10.2752/175303711X12923300467447
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: https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/jssw/vol40/iss4/15?utm_source=scholarworks.wmich.edu%2Fjssw%2Fvol40%2Fiss4%2F15&utm_medium=PDF&utm_campaign=PDFCoverPages [Accessed 1 Dec 2020]
Lem, M., Coe, J.B., Haley, D.B., Stone, E. & O’Grady, W. (2016). The Protective Association between Pet Ownership and Depression among Street-involved Youth: A Cross-sectional Study. Anthrozoös. 29(1), 123–136. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/08927936.2015.1082772
Rew, L. (2000). Friends and Pets as Companions: Strategies for Coping With Loneliness Among Homeless Youth. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing. 13(3), 125–132. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1744-6171.2000.tb00089.x
Rhoades, H., Winetrobe, H. & Rice, E. (2015). Pet Ownership Among Homeless Youth: Associations with Mental Health, Service Utilization and Housing Status. Child Psychiatry & Human Development. 46, 237–244. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10578-014-0463-5
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: https://doi.org/10.1080/08927936.2021.1878683
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: https://doi.org/10.1177/1363460720986908
Slatter, J., Lloyd, C. & King, R. (2012). Homelessness and Companion Animals: More than Just a Pet? British Journal of Occupational Therapy. 75(8), 377-83. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4276%2F030802212X13433105374350
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: https://doi.org/10.1080/10888705.2020.1801434
Veterinary Evidence uses the Creative Commons copyright Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. That means users are free to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format. Remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially - with the appropriate citation.