This is a study which analyses whether cats and dogs as pets benefit or are detrimental to the mental and physical well-being of gay and bisexual men who have prostate cancer.
In the study, the participants were non-Hispanic white males in their 60s. They lived in 38 states and two Canadian provinces. Ninety-eight participants had pets of which 25% had only a dog and 19% had only a cat while 8% had both animals. There were 417 participants who completed 193 valid survey questionnaires of which 189 surveys were used because two did not answer the pet ownership question and one participant had only pets that were not cats or dogs. This is quite a small study.
Prostate cancer common in elderly men
As I understand it prostate cancer to varying degrees of development is present in every 80+-year-old man in the UK. It is a very common form of cancer in elderly men.
The abstract of the study comes up with the conclusion, a very clear and stark conclusion, that “mental health scores remained significantly lower for cat owners, dog owners, and owners of both animals compared to those of participants who did not have pets”.
To rephrase that, if you are an old, gay man who has developed prostate cancer then having a cat can make your life worse. And the same goes for a dog. The average mental health score for men who only have cats and men who only have dogs was significantly lower than for those men who had no pets. There was no difference between participants who lived with cats and those who lived with dogs.
Against the grain
This appears to go against the grain because the general consensus or point of view of the general population is that having a pet improves mental health (see articles at base of page). There are numerous stories and perhaps studies on the Internet of elderly women’s lives being improved by their companionship with a domestic cat. It is said that they reduce blood pressure in elderly people. Does this point to a difference between elderly men and elderly women and how they interact with their companion animals?
There may be an important issue here. Cat companions are beneficial to elderly people but up to a point. Perhaps from about 75 years of age onwards a domestic companion may become less beneficial because it is known that people in this age bracket often suffer from chronic illnesses. This makes caring for a cat companion more difficult. They have low motivation and begin to give up. The conclusion probably is that beyond a certain point in the age of an individual cat companions are not beneficial to mental and physical well-being.
One theory proposed by the researchers is that people who adopted cats or dogs did so in the belief that they would improve their lives. Perhaps they were disappointed which is why they answered the questionnaire is in the way that they did. Another possibility is that some participants scored lower on mental health because of the added stress of caring for a companion animal. As mentioned, elderly people are sick more often. Perhaps they felt the stress of caring for a cat or dog when they were sick. There may have also been added financial strain. Cat and dog companions can be quite expensive to some people and be a burden on their budget.
It is believed that having a dog can improve health because you have to go out for a walk to exercise your dog. In this study they found no significant health benefits in this respect. Perhaps the amount of walking was not sufficient to increase health. Or perhaps dealing with the prostate cancer prevented them from going for sufficiently long walks for it to be beneficial.