If dog is man’s best friend then other dogs are dog’s best friend, according to new research.
In the largest study of its kind to date, which looked at more than 21,000 dog owners, researchers found that social factors play a significant role in healthy aging for pet dogs. For example, the amount of a dog’s social support network showed the greatest impact and association on better well-being results, having five times more influence than financial factors, household stability or the age of the owner.
The findings were published last month in the peer-reviewed journal Oxford Academic Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health.
The Dog Aging Project
Researcher Noah Snyder-Mackler from Arizona State University (ASU) explained why the team looked at canines.
“People love their dogs,” he said. “But what people may not know, is that this love and care, combined with their relatively shorter lifespans, make our companion dogs a great model for studying how and when aspects of the social and physical environment may alter aging, health and survival.”
The research is part of The Dog Aging Project, a collaboration between University of Washington, Texas A&M, ASU and other medical schools that has enrolled over 45,000 dogs nationwide. It aims to understand how genes, lifestyle, and the environment influence aging and disease results.
The team conducted a survey, having owners answer questions about themselves and their pup’ physical activity, environment, dog behavior, diet, medications and preventatives, health status, and owner demographics.
Based on the results, they identified five key factors that explain a dog’s well-being: Neighborhood stability, total household income, social time with children, social time with animals, and owner age.
To the researchers’ surprise, they found a negative association between the number of children in the household and dog health and that dogs from higher-income households were diagnosed with more diseases.
Furthermore, results indicated that dogs’ living space predicted their health, disease diagnoses, and physical mobility even after taking into effect the dog’s age and weight.
Financial and family adversity was associated with worse health and less physical mobility, while more social companionship, such as living with other dogs, was tied to better health. The effect of social support was five times stronger than financial factors.
Co-director of the Dog Aging Project Daniel Promislow said the results in dogs are similar to that of humans, who also thrive when social.
“This study illustrates the incredibly broad reach of the Dog Aging Project,” he said. “Here, we see how dogs can help us to better understand how the environment around us influences health and the many ways in which dogs mirror the human experience. Just as with people, dogs in lower-resource environments are more likely to have health challenges. Thanks to the richness of the data the Dog Aging Project is collecting, follow-up studies will have the potential to help us understand how and why environmental factors affect health in dogs.”