One in 10 Older Adults Have Gotten a “Pandemic Pet,” Poll Finds

Prior poll showed health and wellness benefits of pet ownership for people over 50.

10:49 PM

Author | Kara Gavin

senior woman sitting with dog on lap
Getty Images

A lot of the attention around "pandemic pets" has focused on families with children getting a cat, dog or other pet in 2020, during a time when many people were learning or working from home.

But a new poll shows that older adults also got in on the trend.

According to the National Poll on Healthy Aging, 10% of all people between the ages of 50 and 80 got a new pet between March 2020 and January 2021.

The percentage was indeed higher – 16% –  among the people in this age range who have at least one child or teen living with them. But the vast majority of people between the ages of 50 and 80 don't live with someone under age 18 –  and nearly 9% of them also got a pet during the pandemic.

All told, 59% of people age 50 to 80 who completed the poll in January 2021 are pet owners. Among those who said in January that they are pet owners, 17% had gotten at least one pet since the pandemic began. The poll did not ask if this was their first pet or an additional pet.

Pet ownership was higher among those age 50 to 64, women, white respondents and those who live in single-family detached homes or are employed. Twelve percent of older adults who are employed said they got a pet since March 2020.

SEE ALSO: Poll: Pets Help Older Adults Cope with Health Issues

The poll is based at the University of Michigan's Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation and receives support from AARP and Michigan Medicine, U-M's academic medical center.

The new data are an update to a previous report by the poll team, published in April 2019. That full report showed that older adults say having a pet helps them enjoy life, reduce stress, have a sense of purpose, and stick to a routine, as well as connect with other people and be physically active, especially for dog owners. Among those older adults who lived alone or were in fair or poor health when the 2019 poll was done, nearly three-quarters said the pet helped them cope with physical or emotional symptoms.

Of those who live alone, the percent having a pet jumped 12 points between the sample reported in 2019 and the January 2021 sample. The role of pets as companions for older adults living alone is an important one, especially during the pandemic when many older adults stayed home because of their higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 if they caught the coronavirus.

Poll director Preeti Malani, M.D., has first-hand experience with getting a "pandemic puppy" to join her family, which includes a high schooler studying at home. It's the first time they've had any type of pet.

Malani notes that on the one hand, her family's new dog has demanded more attention than they might have expected – especially given that she and her husband are busy physicians working both remotely and face to face with patients. But on the other hand, walking, playing and cuddling with the dog has been a welcome distraction during troubling times.

"Sully has been a great addition," she says. "He makes sure we get outside every day. I've also met several other dog owners in the neighborhood."

SEE ALSO: Loneliness Doubled for Older Adults in First Months of COVID-19

The animal shelter nearest the University of Michigan, the Humane Society of Huron Valley, has seen record-high adoption rates in the past year, says Wendy Welch, director of communications.

"We are delighted to see not just worthy animals get homes, but also to see people get much needed unconditional love as well," she says. "While grandparents have sadly been separated from hugging their grandchildren, furry friends have been okay to snuggle. It's well documented that pets can help lower our blood pressure, ease anxiety and improve symptoms of depression. And of particular interest during this isolating pandemic, companion animals certainly stave off the silent killer: loneliness. We are so thankful to the older adults who've opened up their hearts and homes to shelter animals during this time."

The poll data from January come from a sample of 2,019 people, similar in size to the sample reported in the previous pet report.

"How Pets Contribute to Healthy Aging," University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging, April 2019.


More Articles About: lifestyle Covid-19 Wellness and Prevention Geriatrics infectious disease
Health Lab word mark overlaying blue cells
Health Lab

Explore a variety of healthcare news & stories by visiting the Health Lab home page for more articles.

Media Contact Public Relations

Department of Communication at Michigan Medicine

[email protected]

734-764-2220

Stay Informed

Want top health & research news weekly? Sign up for Health Lab’s newsletters today!

Subscribe
Featured News & Stories Drawing of parent trying to get child's attention who is listening to music on headphones
Health Lab
Are headphones and earbuds exposing your children to noise health risks?
2 in 3 parents in national poll say their child ages 5-12 use personal audio devices; pediatrician offers 4 tips to reduce noise exposure risks
Minding Memory with a microphone and a shadow of a microphone on a blue background
Minding Memory
The Intersection of Artificial Intelligence & Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias
In this episode, Matt and Donovan talk with Dr. Jason H. Moore, Director of the Center for Artificial Intelligence Research and Education (CAIRE) and Chair of the Department of Computational Biomedicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Jason discusses the coming impact of artificial intelligence on a spectrum of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia (ADRD) issues. We discuss how tools such as AI-powered chatbots may improve quality of life for people living with dementia (and their caregivers) and how AI may contribute in the future to diagnosis and treatment.
colorful illustration with human figure and highlighted lungs
Health Lab
Multimodal AI model may guide personalized treatments for tuberculosis
AI approach helps researchers interpret large biomedical data sets to accurately predict tuberculosis treatment prognosis
Provider takes a pulse oximetry reading from a patient's finger
Health Lab
Inaccurate pulse oximeter readings could limit transplants, heart pumps for Black patients with heart failure
Racially biased readings of oxygen levels in the blood using pulse oximeters may further limit opportunities for Black patients with heart failure to receive potentially lifesaving treatments, such as heart pumps and transplants
Woman in pink shirt lifts kettleball in an outdoor exercise class
Health Lab
How to make cancer prevention more equitable
Expert explains six behavioral risk factors for cancer and why current programs don’t always meet the needs of people from racially and ethnically minoritized groups and other vulnerable populations.
Medical gloved hand holding test tube sample for HIV testing.
Health Lab
Inequities in HIV testing, diagnosis and care for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities
People with disabilities are often at higher risk for exposure to HIV due to barriers in engaging healthcare and other systemic factors and are thus considered a priority for prevention and testing efforts. However, these efforts don’t always extend to people with intellectual disabilities due to the perception that people with intellectual disabilities are mostly asexual.