What Factors Keep Your Dog Healthier Longer? Major Study Has Answers

By   |  June 14, 2023

By Denise Mann HealthDay Reporter  |  Copyright © 2022 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, June 14, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- Fido really needs a friend.

That's the main takeaway from a new survey that included more than 21,400 dogs and their owners, and showed that pups who have companions (whether furry or human) live healthier, longer lives than those who don’t.

The strength of a dog’s social support network had an even greater effect on their health than their owners’ financial status, and these results held whether the dog was a purebred or a mutt.

“We saw that the effect of social support was about five times stronger than the effect of finances,” said study author Layla Brassington, a graduate student at Arizona State University in Tempe. “Meaning our dogs, like us, benefit greatly from social bonds and social connectedness."

For the study, dog owners were asked how much exercise their dogs got, what they ate and what medications they took, among other questions about their dogs' health and well-being. Owners were also asked about their own circumstances.

Five factors (neighborhood stability, total household income, social time with children, social time with animals, and owner age) comprised a dog's social environment, and these all played a role in a dog’s well-being. Together, these five factors accounted for about 34% of the variation in a dog's social environment.

Financial strife was associated with poorer health and lower physical mobility in dogs, while living with other dogs was associated with better health, even after controlling for a dog’s age and weight.

There were a few twists though: Dogs who lived in homes with children fared worse than those who lived with adults only, likely because owners spend more time with kids than pets, the researchers speculated.

While dogs whose owners struggled financially were in poorer health, dogs from higher-income households were diagnosed with more diseases. This may be because wealthier owners seek veterinary care more frequently, the researchers suggested.

“Social ties have a strong impact on mental and physical health and well-being in dogs, as well as humans,” said study author Noah Snyder-Mackler, an assistant professor at the Center for Evolution and Medicine at Arizona State.

This makes intuitive sense. “If you have friends around when something goes wrong, you face it a little bit better. Our environment trickles down to companion animals as well,” said Snyder-Mackler, who has a dog.

The dogs included in the study are part of the Dog Aging Project, which aims to understand how genes, lifestyle and the environment influence aging and disease. More than 45,000 dogs are now enrolled in the project across the United States. Now, researchers are digging deeper into a subset of 1,000 dogs by collecting blood and other samples over many years for more answers.

The study was published online recently in the journal Evolution, Medicine & Public Health.

Jamie Whittenburg is the veterinarian director at Senior Tail Waggers, a group that offers advice on caring for senior pets, and the director of Kingsgate Animal Hospital in Lubbock, Texas.

“As both a veterinarian and lifelong pet owner, I was anecdotally aware that animals that had more positive social interactions received a health benefit, and it is great to see science backing this up,” said Whittenburg, who has no ties to the research.

The study “reinforces what most of us know intuitively, which is that social connectedness has a positive effect on health in dogs,” she said.

This doesn’t mean it’s time to run out and adopt another pup. Not all dogs will take kindly to companionship, she warned.

“Owners should evaluate their individual dog and strive to provide the desired level of social interaction,” Whittenburg said.

Some dogs enjoy having a playmate and housemate, while some dogs may prefer interacting with other dogs at a dog park or doggie daycare.

“Consider organizing play dates with other dog owners to help your dogs enjoy more frequent social interactions,” she suggested.

More information

Enroll your dog in the ongoing Dog Aging Project for free.

SOURCES: Layla Brassington, graduate student, Arizona State University, Tempe; Noah Snyder-Mackler, PhD, assistant professor, Arizona State University School of Life Sciences, Tempe; Jamie Whittenburg, veterinarian director, Senior Tail Waggers, and director, Kingsgate Animal Hospital, Lubbock, Texas; Evolution, Medicine & Public Health, May 13, 2023, online