Studies consistently find that higher levels of social support improve the psychological and physiological health of older people, but findings from empirical research are mixed regarding the presence of a “pet effect”— the idea that living with an animal can improve human health, psychological wellbeing, and longevity. We examined the assocations among social support, dog and cat ownership, and successful aging in a panel of 5,688 people between the ages of 50 and 74 years. Utilizing GLM, we tested for the presence of a complement (independent or additive effects) and/or hydraulic (interactive effect) association of pets and human support on four indicators of successful aging (pain, functional ability, chronic illnesses, and subjective successful aging). Supporting the hydraulic hypothesis, we found that having a dog was associated with fewer chronic illnesses, higher functional ability, and higher levels of subjective success when people lack human support. Similarly, having both a dog and a cat was associated with higher functional ability, less pain, and higher levels of subjective success when people lack human support. Supporting the complement hypothesis, we found that having a cat was associated with more chronic illnesses and lower levels of subjective successful aging. Findings carry practical implications for supporting pet ownership of older people, suggesting that dogs have a positive association with successful aging.
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