Companion Animals, Attitudes Toward Pets, and Health Outcomes Among the Elderly: A Long-Term Follow-up

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The Companion Animal Project has longitudinally followed a sample of rural, community-dwelling older persons to obtain basic descriptive information on the pattern and meaning of pet ownership among the elderly and to evaluate the impact of an organization formed to support pet ownership among the elderly.

Two telephone interviews were conducted with the entire sample (N=maximum of 355) in 1984 and 1987. Brief subscales of key items were completed from earlier in-person interviews assessing changes in animal-ownership status, physical health, social activities, perceived social support, emotional well-being, and demographic changes. In 1987, the Pet Relationship Scale (PRS), developed from earlier in-person interviews (Lago et al. 1985), was added to the telephone battery.

Results reveal mortality and attrition are higher for former owners than current owners, though the differences are not significant. Pet ownership has declined to 40% of the sample. Declining health status is a stronger predictor of attrition and death than are pet attitudes. Perceived health and morale were strong predictors of each other over a four-year period. Pet attitudes and ownership became significant predictors of maintaining higher levels of both health and morale over four years, but not for the total sample. Directions for future research include focusing on higher-interest subgroups.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: March 1, 1989

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