The relationship between companion animal ownership and wellbeing has received an increasing amount of scientific attention over the last few decades. Although the general assumption is that individuals benefit from the presence of companion animals (termed the “pet-effect”), recent evidence suggests that the nature of this association is diverse and complex and that many of the studies performed so far are subject to methodological constraints. This study therefore aimed to investigate the pet-effect in the natural setting of pet-owners’ daily life. Using the Experience Sampling Method (a signal contingent ecological assessment technique), 55 dog or cat owners reported for five consecutive days, at ten random time-points each day, in the moment whether a pet was present and to what extent they interacted with it. In addition, at each measurement moment they reported on their current positive and negative affect, using 11 mood-related adjectives derived from the Positive And Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS). Multilevel regression analyses showed that negative affect was relatively lower at moments when the companion animal was present (vs. absent) (B = –0.09, p = 0.02, 95%CI = –0.16; –0.02). In addition, the level of interaction with a companion animal was positively associated with positive affect (B = 0.04, p < 0.001, 95%CI = 0.01; 0.07). These results are in line with the pet-effect hypothesis in suggesting that the presence of and interaction with companion animals is associated with aspects of emotional wellbeing. More specifically, the presence of a companion animal may buffer against negative feelings, while interacting with a companion animal may generate positive feelings. This differential effect on positive versus negative affect also shows that the pet-effect is not an unequivocal effect. Different aspects of the human–animal relationship may influence different aspects of wellbeing.
- ambulatory assessment
- companion animals
- ecological momentary assessment
- human-animal interaction