Sociability is key to a healthier dog's life, study finds

Researchers with the Dog Aging Project examined social determinants linked to a longer lifespan among more than 25,000 dogs.

The scientists driving the Dog Aging Project try not to make recommendations on healthy aging based on their research findings. But after parsing the data from their latest study of social determinants of longevity, one thing became too obvious to ignore: The pack is the point.

“This does show that, even for our companion dogs, having those strong social connections and social companions is important,” said Brianah McCoy, a Ph.D. candidate at Arizona State University who is one of the study’s lead authors. “Overall, it’s good for your dog to have social support around, in the form of other people and other dogs. Dogs are social animals, just like us, so they benefit from being around others.”

The new findings were published online last week in Evolution, Medicine & Public Health.

It’s the latest data that draws on the formidable statistical power of 25,000 canines involved in the partnership between the University of Washington School of Medicine, the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine and more than a dozen member institutions around the nation. Study authors are analyzing health and survey data about the dogs to draw unique conclusions that may inform human health. 

Many of the findings made perfect sense. Others seemed counterintuitive: Why do dogs from wealthier backgrounds seem to have more reported health concerns? And are kids really bad for dogs? (We’ll answer those questions in a minute).

“This study illustrates the incredibly broad reach of the Dog Aging Project,” said Daniel Promislow, project co-director and principal investigator. “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, follow-up studies will have the potential to help us understand how and why environmental factors affect health in dogs.”

Factors of social support, such as living with other dogs, were associated with better canine health when controlling for age and weight. Factors of financial and household adversity were associated with poor health and lower mobility. 

“Societal inequities trickle down to our companion animals as well,” said Noah Snyder-Mackler, an assistant professor in the ASU School of Life Sciences, who oversaw the recent paper. “I think that's an important take home in terms of how we might develop interventions to address these inequities.”

Though the importance of social interaction for mammals is not a new discovery, the deep trove of data allowed the research group to discover that the effect of social support was five times stronger than that of financial factors. Taken together, the researchers suggest the results demonstrate the importance of income, household stability and the owner’s age on health outcomes in companion dogs. The findings illuminate behavioral and environmental modifiers that might promote healthy aging across species — for instance, social companionship is good and isolation is bad.

Those results seem straightforward. A couple other results needed more examination to decode. For instance, dogs that live in more affluent surroundings tend to have more documented health problems. The possible reason: Those dogs were more likely to be taken to the veterinarian, thus there was a deeper awareness of their health. 

The most unexpected outcome had to do with kids: More time with children, it appears, is linked to poorer dog health. 

“That was definitely something that came out as a surprise,” said co-lead author Layla Brassington from Arizona State. “But we think that this is because the more time that owners have to dedicate to human children, the less time they have for their furry children.”

Written by Chris Talbott –, 206-543-7129

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