Companion Animals as Buffer against the Impact of Stress on Affect: An Experience Sampling Study

M. Janssens*, E. Janssens*, J. Eshuis, J. Lataster, M. Simons, J. Reijnders, N. Jacobs

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

7 Citations (Web of Science)


Simple Summary Companion animals have been identified as a unique source of social support and as contributors to mental wellbeing. In order to identify whether a companion animal buffers against the aversive effects of stress on affect or whether it has a general effect on its owner's affective state, this study uses a mobile app to question participant's stress levels for five consecutive days (ten times a day in the moment), the presence and interactions with their companion animal, and on their affective states. The results show that the presence of a companion animal buffers against the detrimental effects of stress on positive affect. The association between the presence of a companion animal and positive affect is only present when experiencing stress. When not under stress, positive affect does not benefit from the presence of a companion animal. Positive affect, however, does benefit from the interaction with a companion animal: In the presence of a companion animal, individuals experience less negative affect. These effects are present in all levels of stress. In conclusion, having a companion animal around alleviates negativity, interacting with it increases positivity, and, when an individual is under stress, simply having your cat or dog around helps you to retain your positive feelings. Companion animals have been identified as a unique source of social support and as contributors to mental wellbeing. This study uses the Experience Sampling Method to test whether this effect is due to stress-buffering. A total of 159 dog and cat owners responded to a series of randomly scheduled questionnaires on their smartphones. At each measurement moment, they reported in whether a pet is present at that moment and to what extent they have interacted with the pet. They also reported on stressful activities and events and on their current positive (PA) and negative (NA) affect. Multilevel regression analyses showed that when a companion animal was present (vs. absent) the negative association between stress and PA is less pronounced (event stress: B = 0.13, p = 0.002, 95% CI = 0.05; 0.21 activity stress: B = 0.08, p < 0.001, 95% CI = 0.04; 0.12). No additional main effect was revealed when tested in a subsample of records that reported low or no stress. Main effects were found for the presence of a companion animal on negative affect (B = 0.08, p < 0.001; 95% CI = 0.12; 0.05) and for interacting with a companion animal on positive affect (B = 0.06, p < 0.001; 95% CI = 0.04; 0.08). This shows that the presence of a companion animal buffers against the negative consequences of stress on positive affect, indicating stress-buffering as a mechanism behind the pet-effect. It is, however, not the only mechanism and more research is required to further elucidate how companion animals contribute to human wellbeing.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2171
Number of pages12
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2021


  • human-animal interaction
  • human-animal bond
  • animal companionship
  • pet-effect
  • buffering model
  • mental health
  • daily life
  • ecological momentary assessment
  • ambulatory assessment
  • PET

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