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Are Pet Owners Really More Unhealthy?

As I was reviewing some research articles for a blog I was planning about the benefits of pet therapy in pain management, I came across a recent Finnish study suggesting that pet owners are more likely to be overweight and unhealthy than those who had no pets.  It just didn’t seem right to me – so I decided to go to the source and read the original article.

The researchers surveyed about 8 thousand people.  They found that a total of 80% of those with pets and 82% of those without pets reported good health.

They also said,

“In the multivariate ordinal logistic regression analysis, perceived health was no longer associated with pet ownership. When investigating which explanatory variables included in the model caused the disappearance of the statistical significance, basic education, form of housing, or BMI did so.”

Translation:  being at risk for poorer health is not really about your pet, it’s about your socio-economic status and the degree to which you are overweight.

But this still begs the question: why are Finnish people in poorer health more likely to have a pet?

The authors offer this explanation:

“Pets seem to be part of the lives of older people who have settled down and experience an increase in the number of illnesses, whereas young healthy single people have no time, need, or possibility for a pet.”

Hmmm.  Would an American survey find similar results I wonder?  Is there any cultural bias in these data?  What do you think?  Are American pet owners more likely to be overweight and socio-economically challenged than non-pet owners?

Source:  Koivusilta, L. and Ojanlatva, A. PloS ONE, December 2006; vol 1: pp e109. News release, Public Library of Science.

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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2 Responses to “Are Pet Owners Really More Unhealthy?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    It makes sense that the elderly would be less fit than the young, and it certainly fits a stereotype that the elderly have little dogs to keep them company. But I know plenty of young people who have dogs and exercise with them every day. And they cross all socioeconomic groups. I think you may be right, that there is a cultural effect here. I’d love to see a similar study in the US.

  2. Gastro Girl says:

    I have two Bearded Collies, very energetic, playful, herding dogs! I have always been a runner, active and in excellent health. And I grew up with dogs. But while I exercise daily—I end up being even more active because of the Beardies. I will run around with them at the dog park, take them for long-fast-paced walks or even taking them fa quick run in the evening because they need a lot of exercise. I guess it depends on the type of dog you have. But then again I see alot of overweight dogs, especially labs and golden retrievers–which are active breeds and obvioulsy don’t get enough exercise. Interesting study. You can spend some time at dogs shows or agility trials and see that may of the owners/handlers are indeed overweight. It is puzzling. However, if they have a large yard/field where dogs can run no need for them to exercise with dogs or take them for walks/runs, right? Wonder if this was considertation in the study? Where/how do you exercise your dog? You can have a dog and stand there while they run/play…hence you aren’t getting any exercise.

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