Press Release

Having a Pet Dog as a Child May Lower Risk of Schizophrenia


According to the American Pet Products Association’s most recent National Pet Owners Survey, there are 90 million pet dogs in the United States. As it turns out, association with man’s best friend can provide a previously unknown benefit. Sheppard Pratt Health System, in partnership with Johns Hopkins Medicine, recently completed a study that suggests being around pet dogs from an early age lessens one’s chance of developing schizophrenia as an adult. 

The study, which investigated a Sheppard Pratt population of 1,371 men and women between the ages of 18 and 65, examined the relationship between exposure to a household pet cat or dog during the first 12 years of life and having a subsequent diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. 

Across the entire age range studied, there was no significant link between dogs and bipolar disorders, or for either psychiatric disorder with cats. However, the results suggest that people who have a dog as a child have a lower risk of schizophrenia as an adult. In fact, people are 24% less likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia if they shared a household with a pet dog before their 13th birthday, and those exposed to dogs at birth were 55% less likely than people who had not been exposed at all.

“The issue is an important one because psychiatric disorders have been linked to alterations in the immune system and exposure to pets is one way in which immune alterations can occur,” said Faith Dickerson, PhD, MPH, director of psychology at Sheppard Pratt Health System.  “A better understanding of the underlying causes could provide new insights into risk factors for mental illness and could better inform their prevention and treatment.”

Working on the research team are the following members from Sheppard Pratt: Cassie Stallings, RNC; Andrea Origoni; Emily Katsafanas; Kevin Sweeney; Amalia Squire; Faith Dickerson, PhD, M.P.H, and Robert Yolken, M.D. from Johns Hopkins Medicine. 

For more information, please refer to the following published study.

The study was supported by grants from the Stanley Medical Research Institute.

About Sheppard Pratt

Sheppard Pratt is the largest private, nonprofit provider of mental health, substance use, developmental disability, special education, and social services in the country. A nationwide resource, Sheppard Pratt provides services across a comprehensive continuum of care, spanning both hospital- and community-based resources. Since its founding in 1853, Sheppard Pratt has been innovating the field through research, best practice implementation, and a focus on improving the quality of mental health care on a global level. Sheppard Pratt has been consistently ranked as a top national psychiatric hospital by U.S. News & World Report for 30 years.