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Pet Ownership and Health

Pets are a common feature of German domestic life. According to the German Pet Trade and Industry Association (ZZF, 2019), 45% of households in Germany have at least one pet. Why do so many people choose to own a pet? What benefits does pet ownership provide? Current peer-reviewed research on the relationship between pet ownership and health gives no clear answer. While some research indicates a link between human health and owning furry friends, many other studies show no such connection.

The chart below shows the number of doctor visits per quarter by pet owners and non-pet owners between 1996 and 2016. People without pets clearly pay the doctor more visits than pet owners, but correlation is not causation. Pet owners paying fewer visits to the doctor could indicate that pets improve the health of their owners. But selection bias might also play a role: people who choose to be pet owners may be healthier people already, for some other unidentified reason.

The number of doctor visits and pet ownership. Data from German Socio-Economic Panel Teaching Sample (years 1996/2001/2006/2011/2016). Own calculation.