Pet Ownership and Mental and Physical Health in Older White and Black Males and Females

Amy E. Albright, Department of Veterans Affairs, VA Maine Health Care System, Augusta, ME 04240, USA.
Ruifeng Cui, Department of Veterans Affairs, VISN 4 Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center, VA Pittsburgh Health Care System, Pittsburgh, PA 15240, USA.
Rebecca S. Allen, Department of Psychology, The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL 35401, USA.


Pet ownership literature remains mixed regarding associations with mental and physical health outcomes among older adults. The present study investigates the relationship between pet ownership and depression, health, and physical activity in an older adult sample balanced by sex (male/female), race (White/Black), and urban/rural status. Participants were adults aged 65+ recruited between 1999 and 2001 in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Study of Aging. Participants completed the Geriatric Depression Scale, a single-item self-reported health measure, and a physical activity questionnaire. Dog owners reported better subjective health and were more likely to walk for exercise as compared to non-pet owners. Cat owners did not differ from non-pet owners in terms of self-reported health or walking. White participants were more likely than Black participants to report ownership of a pet. No relationships were found between pet ownership and symptoms of depression. Findings were not influenced by sex, race, or geographical location. Dog ownership may be associated with positive physical health behaviors and subjective health perceptions. Additional research focused on mechanisms and cognitive impact is needed. Although there may be physical health benefits of dog ownership, adopting a pet should not be viewed as a simplistic solution to alleviating depression in older adults.