How Can We Help Unhoused People with Pets? Study Shares Five Strategies

More than 650,000 Americans experienced homelessness in 2023, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Point-in-Time report, which looks at figures from a single night in January. This was a 12% increase over 2022. Officials say the increase was likely due in large part to high rents, limited rental units, and pandemic eviction protections winding down. An estimated 10% of these unhoused people own pets, so what can be done to keep them both healthy? A new study investigated.

Research recently published in the journal Human Animal Interactions analyzed 19 studies on unhoused people and their pets in the U.S., the U.K., and Canada. The goal was to pinpoint the best strategies to help this population and to help guide further research on the topic, which researchers say has had little attention.

Homeless cat in cardboard box

Dr. Michelle Kurkowski, co-lead author and Veterinary Medical Officer for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, says, “Research has shown that companion animals are a source of friendship and physical safety, and homeless persons with pets report significantly lower rates of depression and loneliness compared to non-pet owners.


“Studies show that pet owners experiencing homelessness are also subjected to unique challenges in caring for both themselves and their companion animals. Individuals, for instance, are often forced to choose between accessing lodging and keeping their pets with them.

“Similarly, our review reveals that this group is less likely to utilize needing assistance, such as health care or career services, potentially due to difficulty using public transportation of lack of safe places to leave pets.”

Unhoused man feeds cat

These concerns were addressed in the list of the five best strategies the study identified, with free veterinary clinics, joint/human animal clinics, and pet-friendly lodging among them. Other strategies were a reduction of stigma and interdisciplinary partnerships that provide combined services.

Though these strategies were identified, the team says much more research is needed. They also say interventions will be most helpful with more people on board, including public and private organizations.

They write, “Addressing the unique needs of this group should be a priority for researchers and service providers looking to improve health outcomes among the homeless, and failure to acknowledge the importance of the human-animal bond in this group will lead to incomplete care. This is not an issue that should rely solely on the efforts of veterinary professionals but requires the combined efforts of healthcare providers, social workers, animal welfare workers and governmental and nonprofit organizations in order to develop innovative One Health solutions for the challenges currently facing this population.”

Homeless dog eats out of bowl

If you’d like to do your part to help unhoused veterans and their pets, learn what you can do here!

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