Dog ownership appears to be linked with a lower risk of disability in older people, according to new research. The study, conducted in Japan, looked at the roles of pets in later life and how taking care of them might have benefits to an owner’s wellbeing.
Cat and dog owners were interviewed in this research. As reported in the journal PLOS ONE, the team found that older adults who were current dog owners were almost half as likely to have a disability compared to people who never had a dog. The relationship held true when sociodemographic and health factors that could influence disability risk were taken into account. These varied from marital status to history of chronic diseases, to time spent outdoors, etc. The risk for dog owners that exercised regularly was even lower.
But it is not just about pet companionship, as cat owners didn’t benefit from the same reduced risk. The authors suggest that the requirements of owning a dog make people more active, reducing the risk of physical frailty, which is linked to future disability. Dog owners, due to having to take their canine companions for a walk, are four times more likely to meet the recommended physical activity guidelines than non-owners.
“Dog ownership protects against the onset of disability in older adults. The daily care, companionship and exercise of a pet dog may have an important role to play in successful aging,” Yu Taniguchi of the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Tsukuba, Japan, and colleagues, said in a statement.
Taniguchi and colleagues employed questionnaires to understand the effect of dog and cat ownership on 11,233 Japanese adults aged 65 to 84. In the questionnaires, they asked about demographics, disability, and other health data between June 2016 and January 2020. They then performed statistical analysis on the findings.
The authors stress that dog ownership combined with regular exercise could be the key to a healthier older population if support for such a lifestyle was extended across the board. The team hopes to investigate the physical and psychological mechanisms behind the benefit of dog ownership further. They would also like to examine the relationship between dog ownership and disability in other countries, to establish if this is a common trait or more exclusive to Japan.
A negative result in this study is that neither cat nor dog ownership reduces mortality, whereas previous work found reduced death from cardiovascular diseases. So dogs might not make us live longer but they might make life easier.