Physical Health Benefits of Pets

For older adults

General Health

People are living longer all over the world; in Europe, about 20% of the population is over 65, and that number is expected to double by 2050. In the US, the older adult population is currently about 43.1 million and also expected to double by 2050 to 83.7 million40. Older adults tend to face ever increasing numbers and severities of health challenges, but those with pets make fewer visits to doctors than those without pets41. It is possible that older adults who own pets are healthier than their non-pet-owning counterparts, and thus need to make fewer visits to the doctor, but it is also possible that less healthy older adults may need assistance to maintain their pets while they see to their own health care. In a nine-paper special journal issue on the topic of human-animal interaction and healthy human aging (https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rfan20/32/2 ) a clear theme emerged – the importance of companion animals in the lives of older adults42. Pet ownership appears to be particularly important for older adults with few social contacts, because those having a strong attachment to a pet report lower rates of depression than those who are less attached43.

Physical Activity and Healthy Aging

Older dog owners are more than twice as likely to maintain their mobility over time as non-dog owners, and they sit less often, and are more likely to take more steps, walk at a faster cadence and meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity44,29.

Heart Health

Analysis of 24-hour Holter monitor electrocardiogram in older adults revealed that the presence of their own pet modulated their cardiac autonomic imbalance. In older adults with pre- to mild hypertension, the presence of a dog was associated with lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure (BP) during the normal activities of daily living. These findings suggest that pet ownership, especially of dogs, may help to slow the progression of hypertension45. For older adults who had experienced a myocardial infarction, pet ownership predicted survival46. A number of studies involving animal interactions or visitations have shown that interacting with a dog results in decreases in blood pressure, risk of falls, hospitalization rates and other stress indicators such as heart rate, muscle tension, and skin temperature47.