Stressful life events and use of physician services among the elderly: the moderating role of pet ownership

J Pers Soc Psychol. 1990 Jun;58(6):1081-6. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.58.6.1081.


The physician utilization behavior of 938 Medicare enrollees in a health maintenance organization was prospectively followed for 1 year. With demographic characteristics and health status at baseline controlled for, respondents who owned pets reported fewer doctor contacts over the 1-year period than respondents who did not own pets. Furthermore, pets seemed to help their owners in times of stress. The accumulation of prebaseline stressful life events was associated with increased doctor contacts during the study year for respondents without pets. This relationship did not emerge for pet owners. Owners of dogs, in particular, were buffered from the impact of stressful life events on physician utilization. Additional analyses showed that dog owners in comparison to owners of other pets spent more time with their pets and felt that their pets were more important to them. Thus, dogs more than other pets provided their owners with companionship and an object of attachment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Aged
  • California
  • Depression / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Maintenance Organizations / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Services for the Aged / statistics & numerical data*
  • Human-Animal Bond*
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Object Attachment*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Referral and Consultation / statistics & numerical data*