Opinion and Editorial

Why we love to spend money on our pets

Wendy L. Patrick
Filed on April 11, 2021

Besides the obvious, that we love to spoil those we love, research reveals that spending money on our pets puts a smile on our face.

Pets are part of our family. Many people admit taking better care of their beloved, faithful and furry companions than themselves. And when it comes to generosity, we demonstrate our devotion to our pets through our actions, our time, and our wallets. Many pet owners spend more money on items for their dogs or cats than for themselves, or even other people. Why?

Besides the obvious, that we love to spoil those we love, research reveals that spending money on our pets puts a smile on our face.

Pet spending sparks satisfaction.

Michael W. White et al, in Give a Dog a Bone: Spending Money on Pets Promotes Happiness, explored exactly that issue. They creatively begin with an anonymous quote: “I work hard so my dog can have nice things.”

Many people can relate to this. White et al. found that consistent with their hypotheses, stemming from the reality that pet owners consistently splurge on gifts, services, and accessories for their pets, such generosity indeed made pet owners happy. Happier, in fact, than when asked to recall how they felt when they spent money on themselves or on another person. White et al. note that these findings represent an evidence-based strategy that pet owners can use to increase their level of happiness through intentional activity designed to improve well-being.

White et al. found that pet-owner participants assigned to spend $5 buying something for their pet reported a greater degree of happiness than participants assigned to spend that money on themselves or someone else, a finding indicating an effect specific to feelings of happiness as opposed to relating more generally to mood.

White et al. note that pet owners continue to happily and heartily invest in their pets, even during periods of recession. They note that research has shown that in China, for example, pet owners spent $1.5 billion on pet salons and spa experiences, while here in the United States, we broke global records, shelling out nearly $100 billion on food, supplies, services, and accessories for our beloved pets.

Wellness research indicates this is money well spent, for our pets as well as for ourselves, as White et al. note that pet ownership improves physical and mental health. Dog owners get more exercise than non-dog owners simply by regularly walking their dogs, and owning pets is linked to lower cardiovascular risk and coronary artery disease.

Emotionally, White et al. note that pet owners report being less lonely and enjoying a higher sense of self-esteem and life-satisfaction, as compared to people without pets. Because happy people often have strong social relationships, research suggests pets can fulfil core social needs such as belonging, resulting in pet owners reporting less depression, less stress, and greater self-esteem.

Apparently, we have pets for a variety of reasons, and cherish their company in many different ways. Expressing love with our words and our wallets, we ensure that our four-legged-family members are well fed, well cared for, and showered with appreciation and affection, all of which creates emotional satisfaction. White et al. recognise that longitudinal investigations of happiness indicate what should be inspiring and encouraging to many people struggling with maintaining their mood: we can elevate and maintain happiness through changing our activities rather than our circumstances. Accordingly, among many other methods of boosting mood, spending money on pets has emerged as an evidence-based strategy to improve well-being. So buy your dog a bone.

— Psychology Today

Wendy L. Patrick is a career trial attorney, author, and media commentator.

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