Objectives: The purpose of this study was to identify whether cat owners, dog owners and individuals without pets differ in terms of depressive symptoms, loneliness and social isolation among individuals in old age without a partner. Method: For this study, data were used from a nationally representative sample of non-institutionalized older individuals (German Ageing Survey). We focused on older adults (>65 years) who did not have a partner. The outcome measures were quantified using validated scales. Multiple linear regressions were used. Results: Among the n = 1,160 individuals aged 65 years and over without a partner, 952 individuals (82.1%) did not own a pet. Moreover, 145 individuals (12.5%) owned one or more cat/s and 63 individuals (5.4%) owned one or more dog/s. Multiple linear regressions showed that dog owners were less socially isolated than individuals without pets. There were no differences between cat owners and individuals without pets in the outcome measures. While there were no differences observed in men, female dog owners were less socially isolated and less lonely than women without pets. Conclusion: Our study revealed an association between owning a dog and social isolation (total sample) as well as loneliness (total sample and women). Future research should focus on elucidating the underlying mechanisms. In addition, longitudinal studies are required to deepen our understanding of this association.
Keywords: Loneliness; animal ownership; depression; pets; social exclusion; social isolation.