As if we needed another reason to be worried about excess screen time, there’s a study that came out recently in the U.K. that sparked conversation about how our pooches may get anxious and even depressed when we, their owners, spend too much time on our smartphones.
I saw this headline from several different publications, but it was hard to find a direct source for it. It seems like the study, which came out this fall, primarily looked at how companion animals can really benefit those who are suffering from mental illness. Having a companion animal, such as a dog, makes people feel more connected, particularly in times of crisis. However, a component that was also brought up after this study was published is that our smartphone usage can actually give our dogs mental health issues. By indulging in too much screen time, we’re essentially ignoring our pups, which can make them feel lonely and isolated.
Iain Booth, a veterinary surgeon and the founder of VetUK, a licensed supplier of pet medications, was quoted in Metro.co.uk saying how our “gadget dependence” is harming the relationships we have with our pets. Booth said this mainly affects dogs, but house cats can fall victim to it as well.
“To understand what’s going on we have to look at the basic principles of how a dog interacts physically and emotionally with a human,” Booth said. “A dog is a social creature, a pack animal. And to the dog you are the bona fide leader of the pack ... But if you’re perpetually attached to your phone, that vital bond breaks down.”
Booth continued by saying that all of the hours we spend transfixed by our screens adds up over time and can lead to behavioral issues with our dogs.
Now, in a way, all of this information seems intensely obvious. Of course our four-legged friends don’t appreciate it when we stare at a small object constantly instead of playing with them. But, I must admit, it’s not a factor I considered when it comes to taking care of my pups. As a dog parent, I constantly worry about my children. Do they have enough food? Are they happy? Do they get lonely or scared or bored when my boyfriend and I are at work? I have unabating anxieties running through my head about their well being. But I always figured if I’m physically around, that made things better. I haven’t given much thought to how my actions, or lack of actions, can affect them. And, truth be told, I’m in front of a screen the majority of my time for work and to stay connected with friends and family. It’s an excessive amount of screen time. I know that, so how must my dogs feel?
Those are two beings that rely almost entirely on love from my boyfriend and me for their happiness. So if the main people they rely on are more interested in engaging with a smartphone, that’s a problem.
Even in beautiful Colorado, where there are outdoors spaces all around, most of us spend an unprecedented amount of time in front of screens. New data from USC Annenberg shows that, on average, Americans spend nearly 24 hours per week online. Yes, some of that is required for work and to stay connected with loved ones, but maybe it’s time we take a few of those hours and use them to hang with our buddies. Screens should enhance our lives, but they shouldn’t define them. I realize that the mission to limit screen time is much easier said than done, but if we can’t do it for our own well being then hopefully we can for our furry friends.
Barbara Platts should probably get off of her screen and spend some time with her pups, Cash and June. Reach her at email@example.com or on Twitter @BarbaraPlatts.