What makes dogs happy and healthy? The answers may surprise you

Research shows that dogs living in homes with other dogs have better health, while those residing in households with children may be worse off.

TEMPE, Ariz. — Dogs are more than just pets, they can provide valuable insights into how the environment affects their health and aging. A study conducted by researchers at Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences has uncovered the social determinants that contribute to healthier aging in dogs.

The study, part of the Dog Aging Project, surveyed over 21,000 dog owners to investigate the factors influencing their canine companions’ well-being. The researchers found that a strong social support network has the greatest impact on a dog’s health, surpassing financial factors, household stability, and the age of the owner.

Analyzing the detailed survey responses from dog owners, the research team identified five key factors that contribute to a dog’s social environment: neighborhood stability, total household income, social time with children, social time with animals, and owner age. These factors influenced a dog’s health, disease diagnoses, and physical mobility, even after accounting for age and weight.

Interestingly, the study found that having more social companions, such as living with other dogs, positively impacted a dog’s health. However, the presence of children in the household had a negative association with dog health.

“We found that time with children actually had a detrimental effect on dog health,” says researcher and student Layla Brassington in a university release. “The more children or time that owners dedicate to their children likely leads to less time with their furry children.”

“You can think of it as a resource allocation issue, rather than kids being bad for dogs,” adds PhD student Bri McCoy.

Pictures of 15 different dogs
The Dog Aging Project aims to better understand healthier aging for people’s beloved canine companions. More than 45,000 dogs of all breeds and sizes have enrolled in the study. (Credit: Dog Aging Project, University of Washington)

Contrary to expectations, dogs from higher-income households were diagnosed with more diseases. This finding highlights the influence of financial access to medical care, as wealthier owners may seek veterinary assistance more frequently and can afford additional diagnostic tests.

While the study provides valuable insights, it’s important to consider that the data relies on owner-reported surveys, which may introduce biases or errors. Future research aims to investigate the physiological mechanisms underlying the observed environmental effects on dogs’ health.

A subset of around 1,000 dogs participating in the study will undergo long-term biological sample collection, enabling researchers to explore the connections between survey responses and underlying physiology.

Ultimately, the study reinforces the link between the social environment and health outcomes, not only for dogs but also for humans. Understanding how environmental factors influence health and disease can contribute to promoting longer and healthier lives, both for our furry companions and ourselves.

The study is published in the journal Evolution Medicine and Public Health.

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