Spending Money on Your Pets Promotes Happiness

The scientific literature is filled with evidence linking human well-being to activities surrounding their pets.  We know, for instance, there are numerous benefits of pet ownership for people’s physical and mental health (Herzog, 2011). Dog owners walk significantly more minutes per week and engage in more physical activity than non-dog owners (Salmon et al., 2010), and pet ownership is related to lower cardiovascular risk and coronary artery disease, even after controlling for socioeconomic and demographic variables (Mubanga et al., 2017; Xie et al., 2017). Pet owners also visit the doctor less often than non-pet owners, consistent with a profile of greater physical health (Headey & Grabka, 2011). With respect to mental health, pet owners report lower levels of loneliness, greater self-esteem, and greater life-satisfaction than non-pet owners (Bao & Schreer, 2016; McConnell et al., 2011). But what about spending money on pets?  Do pet owners benefit from that activity as well?  The findings of a recent study seem to indicate that is the case…


The researchers in the present study proposed that spending on one’s pets may be an intentional activity that pet owners can use to boost their happiness.  This hypothesis was supported by previous related findings…

“Although pet owners may choose to purchase gifts for their pets for a variety of reasons, discretionary spending on pets appears to be aligned with many intentional activities to boost happiness. First, people are happier when they spend on strong ties (e.g., friends, family) than weak ties (e.g., strangers, acquaintances) (Aknin et al., 2011). Pets can be conceived of as strong ties, as most people view their pets as family (McConnell et al., 2017), feeling as close to their pets as their siblings (A.R. McConnell et al., 2019; McConnell et al., 2011). Second, happiness is associated with the frequency of affective experiences (cf. Dunn et al., 2011). Pet gifts are often small and frequent (vs. large and infrequent) purchases such as a tennis ball for Fido or a small can of tuna for the family cat. Moreover, more than half of pet owners buy their pets a gift at least once per month, as well as on special occasions such as birthdays and holidays (Browne, 2018; Shannon-Missal, 2015). Third, people are happier when they spend on experiences vs. material items (Van Boven & Gilovich, 2003). When people spend on their pets, the gift is often an experience shared by both pet and owner (e.g., playing fetch with a new tennis ball). Last, people are happier when they can see the positive impact of their purchase (Aknin et al., 2013). When giving to their pets, owners are typically able to witness their pet enjoying a new toy or a special treat.”

Study overview

The researchers tested their hypothesis in two studies:  In Experiment 1, they examined the effect of recalling a pet purchase (vs. a personal purchase) on happiness in a laboratory setting. In Experiment 2, they examined the effect of an actual pet purchase (vs. personal purchase) on happiness in a field setting. For comparison, they also included a prosocial spending condition (purchase for another person) in both experiments.

Findings overview

As predicted, participants who spent money on their pets reported feeling happier than those who spent money on themselves. People who spent money on their pets were also happier than those who spent money on someone else. There was no significant difference in reported happiness between the personal and prosocial spending conditions.  The researchers concluded that the study results provide support for the hypothesis that spending money on pets promotes happiness.


Journal reference:  White, M., et al.  Give a dog a bone: Spending money on pets promotes happiness, The Journal of Positive Psychology, March 2021, https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2021.1897871