Pet Ownership Patterns and Successful Aging Outcomes in Community Dwelling Older Adults

Erika Friedmann, Nancy R. Gee, Eleanor M. Simonsick, Stephanie Studenski, Barbara Resnick, Erik Barr, Melissa Kitner-Triolo, Alisha Hackney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Diminishing cognitive and physical functions, worsening psychological symptoms, and increased mortality risk and morbidity typically accompany aging. The aging population's health needs will continue to increase as the proportion of the population aged > 50 years increases. Pet ownership (PO) has been linked to better health outcomes in older adults, particularly those with chronic conditions. Much of the evidence is weak. Little is known about PO patterns as people age or the contribution of PO to successful aging in community-dwelling older adults. This study examines PO patterns among healthy community-dwelling older adults and the relationship of PO to cognitive and physical functions and psychological status. Methods: Participants in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (> 50 years old, N = 378) completed a battery of cognitive, physical function, and psychological tests, as well as a PO questionnaire. Descriptive and non-parametric or general/generalized linear model analyses were conducted for separate outcomes. Results: Most participants (82%) had kept pets and 24% have pets: 14% dogs, 12% cats, 3% other pets. The most frequent reasons for having pets included enjoyment (80%) and companionship (66%). Most owners had kept the pet they had the longest for over 10 years (70%). PO was lower in older decades (p < 0.001). Pet owners were more likely to live in single-family homes and reside with others (p = 0.001) than non-owners. Controlling for age, PO was associated independently with better cognitive function (verbal leaning/memory p = 0.041), dog ownership predicted better physical function (daily energy expenditure, p = 0.018), and cat ownership predicted better cognitive functioning (verbal learning/memory, p = 0.035). Many older adults who did not own pets (37%) had regular contact with pets, which was also related to health outcomes. Conclusion: PO is lower at older ages, which mirrors the general pattern of poorer cognitive and physical function, and psychological status at older ages. PO and regular contact with pets (including PO) are associated with better cognitive status compared with those who did not own pets or had no regular contact with pets independent of age. Dog ownership was related to better physical function. Longitudinal analysis is required to evaluate the association of PO and/or regular contact with maintenance of health status over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number293
JournalFrontiers in Veterinary Science
StatePublished - Jun 25 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • BLSA
  • functional status
  • healthy aging
  • human-animal interaction
  • pet ownership
  • psychological status
  • quality of life
  • wellbeing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • veterinary(all)


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