Pet Ownership and Access as Predictors of Self-Reported Health in a National Sample of U.S. Elders

Laura A. Sanchez, Bowling Green State University
Gwendolyn Zugarek, Bowling Green State University

We use the 2012 Health and Retirement Study special module on human-animal interactions to explore the effects of pet ownership and access on self-reported health for a representative sample of elders over age 50. We use much-refined measures of types of animal companionship and pet attachment than previous studies and explore the mediation and moderation effects of social support and physical activity. We find significant mediation effects of race/ethnicity and moderation effects of social support and physical activity. A major finding indicates that access to another’s pets rather than current ownership of pets is associated with significantly higher self-reported health. This key finding resonates with qualitative studies with small homogenous samples which suggest that responsibility for pets can be associated with poorer health outcomes and distress when elders are unable to financially or physically care for a pet or face the distress of a sick or dying pet.

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 Presented in Session P5. Adult Health and Mortality