Should elderly people adopt a dog rather than a cat?

By Alex Cooke

This is not an attempt to besmirch the much loved domestic cat. I love cats but you can’t go walkies with a cat (not really). Older people need to go for walks. They need to exercise. They need to be encouraged to exercise. Especially when the weather is bad.

“When we looked at how the amount of activity participants undertook each day varied by weather conditions, we were surprised at the differences between those who walked dogs and the rest of the participants.” — Yu-Tzu Wu (Cambridge University)

Researchers from the University of East Anglia and the University of Cambridge discovered that owning a dog naturally resulted in walking with their dog which in turn was one of the most effective ways to beat an old person’s decline in activity levels especially during bad weather in the winter.

The research has been published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. The researchers analyzed information from a long-term study which tracked the health and welfare of thousands of people in the county of Norfolk, UK.

Two thirds of dog owners walked their dogs at least once a day and 18% of people with an average age of 69 years and six months had a dog. The total number of participants in the research study was 3123.

The important conclusion is that regular dog walkers were more active on days when the weather was the poorest than non-dog owners were on the days when the weather was at its best.

The findings indicate that dog ownership supports physical maintenance in elderly people and could be described as a part of an exercise regime. Dog walking is impossible for some elderly people. Perhaps the local authority could step in and organse community doog walking groups?

Dog walking is also a very sociable event. Elderly people can be lonely. They need to meet people. Dog walking can assist in this objective. We know that there are many elderly women who like to look after a cat for company.

Playing devils advocate, I wonder if lonely, elderly people should consider adopting a dog rather than a cat for company. A dog can introduce an owner to others and so the company becomes human whereas the cat owner adopts a cat to seek company and friendship from the cat.

Any thoughts anyone?

Source: the research document via the Times Newspaper

Photo montage added by PoC Admin.

9 thoughts on “Should elderly people adopt a dog rather than a cat?”

  1. If you want to take a walk take a walk. You don’t need a dog to do that. My mom walks every day. I actually had a bit of trouble keeping up with my 72 year old mother on a recent visit. She has neither dog nor cat but spends most of her time outside and is very fit.

    That being said, I get more exercise with Monty than I would without him. We play inside with his toys. He likes me to throw the toy to the top of his cat tree, he climbs up to bat it down, I bend to pick it up and throw it up there again. I get a workout too, bending to pick up the toy over and over again until he gets tired of the game.

    He likes me to come out into his enclosure with him. Often it is not enough for me to just let him out there. He badgers me into coming out with him. Once there I walk around for exercise and I have hand weights I keep out on the deck, plus I usually do some stretching. Even if I don’t do a workout I walk around picking up sticks or pulling weeds. All of that activity happens when I probably would have been on the couch relaxing. A cat can help you stay active just likes dog, I think.

    But when a senior can no longer be active you end up with a frustrated dog who can’t get walked (unless they have a willing grandson to help out or can hire someone to do it) whereas with a cat, the human does not have to be able to go out, as the cat can be entertained even from a wheelchair with a laser pointer or a fishing pole toy.

    • Good arguments. Thanks Ruth. I agree the argument about adopting a dog is not a hugely good one. That said having a dog forces one to go for a walk come rain or shine and this is where the advantage is in terms of exercise for the elderly.

  2. My sister chose to get a new cat in her high-rise apt. She loves cats, but now is dog-sitting to get some exercise, make a few bucks, and get out more as her cat wasn’t interested. I have a cat that will behave on a leash, but as much as I love cats, the loyalty and companionship of a dog is so much stronger and uplifting in general. A dog listens while a cat flips you off when you are sad. I like both, but if you can walk and can only have one, pick a gentle dog.

    • I love cats but being in the elderly bracket I can see the value of having a gentle, small to medium sized dog for walking and socialising. I like walking too so it would be great to have a dog companion to accompany me.

  3. I walk two of my cats without a leash just fine. I can do that where I live, or have been able to easily walk down the street to the park and back. Walking slowly is a good pace for them to follow, and perhaps would be for many older folks anyway. The proviso would be that they are all adequately adapted and habituated, both humans and cats, and that they have a street or yard where they can do it without interference from dogs, some of which can and do get away from their walker to attack other’s pets. In that situation cats if off leash can run from danger. And they do naturally follow my lead and walk beside or behind me. Admittedly though I have great rapport with them. I think dogs tend to want to be out front, especially if on a leash that they like to pull on. I think walking cats under the best of circumstances would be a good fit for some elders. I’m so tired of reading that cats can’t do anything, basically just because people keep measuring them against dogs. You CAN go walkies with a cat… REALLY, and I’ll do a video of it to post on youtube.

  4. I’m an elderly person, okay an old person at 71. I have 6 cats, I get my exercise by pet sitting, taking care of a very large yard and my greenhouse. I chose not to train my current clowder to the harness and leash. However we had cats in the past who were trained to harness and leash. We took vacations with 3 children, 4 dogs, and 9 cats, all of whom were trained to the harness and leash-until the children got old enough to behave off leash. It takes a great deal of patience to train a cat to accept a harness and leash, as the cat wishes to be in the lead. But it can be done, and It is very enjoyable to walk with a companion, whether dog or cat. Granted, care must be taken, as there are dogs and humans who will not accept the sight of a cat walking with his or her human

  5. Unlike dog owners I can go for a walk without a crap bag in my back pocket. I so enjoy my peaceful walks I don’t need a dog on a leash to motivate me nor do I need a dog as a prop to talk to people.


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