New research shows the best way to keep dogs happy and healthy as they age with their human companions by surrounding them with other dogs.
Researchers conducted the largest survey of its kind on more than 21,000 dog owners. Published on May 13 in the journal Evolution, Medicine & Public Health, the study shows what health factors are important to keep canines aging alongside their humans.
“People love their dogs,” Noah Snyder-Mackler, assistant professor of life sciences at Arizona State University, said in a press release. “But what people may not know, is that this love and care, combined with their relatively short lifespan, makes our companion dogs a great model for studying how and when aspects of the social and physical environment may alter aging, health and survival.”
Research was conducted by the Dog Aging Project, a collective, ongoing study with some universities in the US, which aims to understand how genes, lifestyle and environmental factors play into a dog’s life. More than 45,000 dogs are enrolled to participate.
The latest study led by Snyder-Mackler, PhD student Bri McCoy, and master’s student Layla Brassington, analyzed a survey of dog owners.
It attempted to find key social aspects of healthy dog lifestyles to understand the science behind how our beloved canines age.
Questions posed to owners included the dog’s physical activity, environment, behavior, diet, medications and owner demographics among others.
These questions helped researchers understand the dog’s social environment and well-being.
From the survey, five key factors emerged that impact a dog’s health: neighborhood stability, total household income, social time with children, social time with animals and owner’s age.
“They found that the dogs lived and built environment predicted their health, disease diagnoses, and physical mobility–even after controlling for the dog’s age and weight,” the study reads.
Specifically, financial and household adversity was linked to poorer health for the pup and reduced physical mobility. Meanwhile, social companionship such as living with other dogs increases a canine’s health.
“These effects of each environmental component were not equal: the effect of social support was five times stronger than financial factors,” the research concluded.
This shows that for dogs, like many other animals, socialization is important to health, McCoy said in a press release.
Researchers were surprised to note that there were negative outcomes on a dog’s health if there were children in the household.
“We found that time with children actually had a detrimental effect on dog health,” Brassington said in a press release. “The more children or time that the owners dedicate to their children likely leads to less time with their furry children.”
The study also found dogs that came from higher-income households were diagnosed with more diseases, though noted that’s because pets in these homes have better access to medical care.
A small group of dogs participating in this study (1,000 owners and dogs) are now part of other research discovering the connection between social and biological determinants of health.
“In future research, we will look at electronic veterinary medical records, molecular and immunological measures, and at-home physical tests to generate more accurate measures of health and frailty in the companion dog,” Snyder-Mackler said.
Researchers noted that since these are owner-reported outcomes, there may be some errors, bias, and/or misinterpretation of survey questions.