The Relation Between Pet Ownership, Anxiety, and Depressive Symptoms in Late Life: Propensity Score Matched Analyses

Academic Article


  • The purpose of this study was to explore the differences in anxiety and depressive symptoms between older adult pet owners and non-pet owners after accounting for various correlates. Research findings on the anxiety-relieving and antidepressant effects of late-life pet ownership are mixed and limited. This may be due in part to various characteristics that impact the likelihood of owning a pet. Propensity score matching was used to pair 169 pet owners with 169 non-pet owners aged 70–91 years who participated in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Study of Aging. One set of propensity scores was created using age, sex, race, rurality, marital status, and income, as well as self-reported health, difficulty with activities of daily living, and difficulty with instrumental activities of daily living. A second set of scores was created using age, sex, race, rurality, marital status, and income. Multiple linear regression analyses were then used to explore the relation between pet ownership status and anxiety or depressive symptoms, controlling for the other symptoms. Pet ownership was significantly associated with lower self-reported anxiety symptoms (β = –0.14) but not depressive symptoms (β = –0.03) in the data matched without health variables. When propensity score matching included health variables, pet ownership was related to neither symptoms of anxiety (β = –0.08) nor depression (β = 0.05). These results suggest that owning a pet in later life is related to fewer anxiety symptoms, over and above the impact of depressive symptoms, even after accounting for various demographic and economic covariates. However, general and functional health appear to be critical to this relation, but the direction of this relation could not be determined from our analyses (i.e., it is not clear whether the relation between pet ownership and anxiety symptoms is confounded by, mediates, or is mediated by health). This study is the first large-scale analysis to find a significant relation between pet ownership and fewer anxiety symptoms in older adults.
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Pubmed Id

  • 5118203
  • Author List

  • Bolstad CJ; Porter B; Brown CJ; Kennedy RE; Nadorff MR
  • Start Page

  • 671
  • End Page

  • 684
  • Volume

  • 34
  • Issue

  • 5