Pet Separation Anxiety High among College Students: Study

Pets are not the only ones that experience separation anxiety.  A survey of a sample of new first-year college students leaving pets at home and found that 75% experienced some level of pet separation anxiety — with one in four reporting moderate to severe symptoms. The students who had higher anxiety tended to be those who treated their pets more like people, identifying them as friends, sleeping in the same room and generally spending a lot of time with them. Students who had dogs at home also tended to report more attachment to their pets — and more separation anxiety — than those with cats and other types of pets. 

Study overview

Researchers surveyed a sample of about 150 incoming first-year students who had pets at home. The vast majority of respondents, 81%, were women — which is a limitation of the study but also consistent with trends in college enrollment. In 2020, 60% of enrolled college students were women, according to National Center for Education Statistics.

The researchers surveyed the group before they arrived on campus and after their first two weeks of the semester in fall 2019 before the pandemic forced many universities online. The students answered questions related to their mental health, attachment to their pets and feelings about leaving them behind.

Even after controlling for pre-existing mental health issues, the researchers found that pet-related separation anxiety was very strong in the group during the transition to college, especially among students who were closely attached to their pets.



Journal Reference:  Alexa M. Carr, Patricia Pendry. Understanding Links Between College Students’ Childhood Pet Ownership, Attachment, and Separation Anxiety During the Transition to College. Anthrozoös, 2021; 1

DOI: 10.1080/08927936.2021.1963545