Being An ‘Older’ Pet Parent May Come With Health Benefits

Lori Ennis
by Lori Ennis

We know that being a pet parent offers many physical and mental health benefits. New research suggests that if you’re an ‘older’ pet parent, that benefit may be even more significant.


The study was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. It suggested that being a dog parent, particularly if you’re ‘older’, may be better for your health than if you had a cat or don’t have any pets at all.  

Dr. Amy E. Albright is the study’s author. In an interview with PsyPost, she said, “The study is unique in that it is the first to investigate the potential benefits of pet ownership in a longitudinal sample of older adults balanced by sex (male vs. female), race (white vs. Black), and geographical location (urban vs. rural residence) which allows for the investigation of whether the potential benefits of pet ownership in later life differ by these individual characteristics.”

She said that she and her team wanted to expand on the limited literature about the type of pets people owned in connection with depression and physical health outcomes in adults 65 years or older. 

The team included participants of that age group who lived in a community in Alabama between 1999-2001. Participants who lived in nursing homes were excluded. The participants completed an in-person interview and then follow-up phone interviews two times a year for eight years. They also self-reported on things like depression, health, physical activity and parentship.

Not surprisingly, the results showed that regardless of geographic area, sex or race, dog parents were more likely to report having better health than non-pet parents. Interestingly, though, the researchers found that there were no real differences in health between cat parents and those who had no pets at all. 

An additional finding was that the better health in dog parents didn’t necessarily correlate with more walks for their dogs (often thought to be a main factor in why pet parents have better health in general), as only 8% of the respondents said they’d taken their dog for a walk in the past two weeks of reporting. They did say their dogs had access to backyards and parks.

Dr. Albright contends there are obvious limitations with the research, mainly because the participants self-reported about their health and that’s quite subjective. Many factors can determine health outcomes in older adults particularly, such as genetics, environment, diet and activity level. 

She also believes that future studies would benefit from collecting data from people covering a more broad geographic area.

Still, it’s good news for dog parents, especially more ‘seasoned’ dog parents–owning a dog is good for your emotional health and companionship and your physical health too!

Lori Ennis
Lori Ennis

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