senior african american man petting a labrador

Human Animal Interaction

Waltham-funded study to examine the impact of pet ownership on healthy human aging

Scientists at the University of Maryland and the National Institute on Aging have been awarded funding to study the impact of pet ownership on healthy human aging.

Professor Erika Friedmann, Associate Dean of Research at the University of Maryland, together with her colleague, Barbara Resnick Professor in Gerontology and Drs Eleanor Simonsick and Stephanie Studenski of the National Institute on Aging have been awarded a three year grant of £240,000 from WALTHAM and Mars Petcare (Global Scientific and Regulatory Affairs). WALTHAM HAI Research Manager and State University of New York, Professor Nancy Gee says ‘I am enthusiastic about the magnitude and potential of this project and very much looking forward to collaborating with the team’.

Professor Friedmann’s study will examine the role of pet ownership in maintaining both physical and mental function in healthy older adults. The applicants hypothesise that pet ownership will be associated with better maintenance of physical and psychological health-related outcomes in older adults compared to outcomes in non-pet owning older adults.

The project will use data from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA) which began in 1958. Professor Friedmann says that ‘extensive longitudinal data collected over the last decade, combined with the data we will collect about pet ownership will allow us to examine the link between multiple measures of pet ownership and changes in healthy aging over time. This is essential for understanding the impact of pet ownership on health-related outcomes in healthy older adults.’

In many countries an increasing proportion of the population are made up of older adults. Healthy aging is centred upon retaining independence and quality of life by preserving physical, mental, and social well-being, outcomes that often deteriorate as people age. Research examining the impact of pet ownership on human health suggests that human-animal interaction (HAI) is related to improvements in these outcomes in older adults. However, further research is required to meaningfully advance our knowledge of any causal link and the mechanisms of action underlying the effects of HAI in an aging human population.

WALTHAM and Mars Petcare (Global Scientific and Regulatory Affairs) have further demonstrated their commitment to advancing research in this area by forming a key strategic partnership with the Gerontological Society of America (GSA). This important new partnership brings together experts in HAI and human aging raising HAI up the aging research agenda. This is set to continue as Professor Resnick is the incoming president of the GSA, and the GSA’s Annual Scientific Meeting this November will include a symposium on HAI in healthy human aging organised by Professor Gee and co-chaired by Professors Friedmann, and Resnick and their colleague Dr Elizabeth Galik. The symposium will be followed by the inaugural meeting of the HAI interest group co-convened by Professors Gee and Megan Mueller of Tufts University.

The insights gained from the funded study and future work in this area will help us to better understand the contribution of pets in the healthy aging of older adults