Researchers at Washington State University have conducted a study on a sample of new freshmen college students who left pets at home and found that 75% experienced some level of pet separation anxiety , with one in four reporting symptoms moderate to severe.
More dogs than cats
Students who had the most anxiety tended to be the ones 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. Interestingly, students who kept 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.
Even after controlling for pre-existing mental health problems, the researchers found that pet-related separation anxiety was very strong in the group during the transition to college , especially among students who were very attached to their pets.
The findings indicate that this is a problem for many students and should be taken seriously by campus counselors, in the words of the principal investigator of this study.
It also has implications for pet visitation programs that are now popular at many American universities, which bring animals onto campus to help stressed students. An earlier WSU study found that petting dogs or cats for just 10 minutes reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone .