Researchers urge doctors to consider giving pensioners dogs on prescription

It’s official — owning a dog is good for your health.

A new study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health has found that owning or walking a dog is one of the most effective ways of fending off the decline in later-life activity.

The researchers concluded that older people with dogs spend up to 30 minutes a day outside when they’d otherwise be sitting down. They’re now calling for doctors to consider giving pensioners dogs on prescription to help increase their outdoor activity.

It’s the latest in a long line of studies that show dog owners are fitter and healthier than their counterparts without dogs.

 

Image of elderly man taking a dog for a walk for Vets Now article on benefits of walking dogs
Studies show dog owners are healthier than people without pets

How to care for an overweight dog

But it’s not just people who benefit from a regular dog walking routine, according to Laura Playforth, Vets Now’s head of clinical standards.

“Dogs need exercise,” she said. “One of the problems with modern life is people are often so busy their dogs aren’t walked as often as they should be.

“Dogs who become couch potatoes put on weight and, as everyone knows, obesity can lead to all sorts of dangerous and debilitating life-limiting conditions.

“On top of that dogs who aren’t exercised regularly often find something else to do with their energy such as destroying the house, raiding the bin or simply barking and whining.

“As some of our own case studies show, these behaviours can result in them ending up in emergency situations.

“This study shows that owning a dog and taking them out for regular walks can improve the health of older people — but what it doesn’t show is it can also help dogs live longer, healthier lives, too”.

More than 3100 people took park in the study. Of those, almost one in five owned a dog and two thirds took their dogs for a walk at least once a day.

Even on cold and wet days the activity levels of the dog owning group were 20% higher than those without dogs — and they spent, on average, 30 minutes a day more exercising.

The authors of the study said: “Our findings hint at the important additional role of extrinsic motivation — in this case the need for the dog to be exercised even in poor weather.

“Those who walked dogs were consistently more physically active than those who did not regardless of environmental conditions.

“These large differences suggest that dog walking, where appropriate, can be a component of interventions to support physical activity in older adults.”

"Those who walked dogs were consistently more physically active than those who did not regardless of environmental conditions."

Study author Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health

In light of their findings, the researchers also suggested that dog ownership or community schemes for dog walking could form part of an “exercise on prescription” initiative for older people.

The authors added: “In cases where dog ownership is not possible but where the functional status allows, dog walking opportunities for older adults who do not own a dog could be organised by local community organisations or charities.Dog walking groups may provide wider wellbeing benefits associated with increased social contact.”

“Dog walking groups may provide wider wellbeing benefits associated with increased social contact.”

Borrow my Doggy, a nationwide UK network, which provides regular group dog walks for people who aren’t dog owners, might be one such option, they suggest.