A new study shows that a dog’s exposure to companionship from another dog may positively impact the pet’s health and survival, highlighting the impact that socioeconomic factors can have on the well-being of our furry friends.
The study, conducted by researchers from the Dog Aging Project, focused on understanding how the environment can impact health and well-being – even down to changing molecules in cells.
"We turned to dogs for this question because they share so much of our environment and lived experiences, but because of their shorter lives, we can study the environmental effects across the lifespan," Brianah McCoy, a lead researcher of the study, told FOX Television Stations. "This makes dogs a really good model for how our environment might affect us. In essence, by studying how the social environment affects dog health, we can gain insights that may also be relevant to human health."
The team drew on comprehensive survey data collected from more than 21,000 dogs, looking at different aspects of the dogs’ social environments, such as financial stability and social support.
Two dogs, a Golden Doodle and a Border Collie mix play in the water on the north shore of Long Island at Coindre Hall on April 21, 2014 in Huntington, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The findings, published in the Journal of Animal Health, found that, similar to humans, the environment had a "really strong influence on dog health."
The study found that social support, such as living with other dogs, was associated with better health outcomes in dogs. The presence of canine companionship appeared to have a protective effect on the health of the dogs, even when controlling factors such as age and weight.
Meanwhile, factors like financial difficulties and unstable households had a detrimental effect on the health and physical mobility of companion dogs.
"We were really encouraged by the findings because it means there are things we can do to help improve the health of our animal companions, as well as us, without resorting to medical interventions," McCoy explained.
The researchers found that the effect of social support and companionship on health was 5 times stronger than the effect of financial and household adversity on health.
"So having a friend around really matters – which I am sure we can all relate to," McCoy added.
While researchers cannot make claims due to the correlation nature of the study, the findings seem to suggest that having more social connections or furry friends does show an association with better health outcomes.
"By diving deeper into this relationship, we can gain a more complete understanding of how the social environment, dog health, and age-related factors all interact with each other," McCoy continued.
She said the goal of this study is to use this knowledge to advocate for better care and support for dogs, regardless of their background.
The team will continue their research, working with a smaller cohort of dogs with paired molecular data, so they can better understand how these social factors are "getting under the skin" to impact the health and well-being of animals.
This story was reported from Los Angeles.