Buddy or burden? Patterns, perceptions, and experiences of pet ownership among older adults in Switzerland

Eur J Ageing. 2022 Apr 2;19(4):1201-1212. doi: 10.1007/s10433-022-00696-0. eCollection 2022 Dec.


While interactions with pets may yield significant emotional, social, and physical benefits, taking care of them can also be demanding and experienced as a burden, especially among persons with physical restrictions or economically disadvantaged individuals. This study investigates pet ownership and corresponding perceptions and experiences in a nationally representative sample of adults aged 55 years and older in Switzerland. We use data from a questionnaire on human-animal interactions from 1832 respondents administered during wave 7 (2017) in the Swiss country study of the Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe. Multivariable associations between pet ownership and pet owners' corresponding perceptions and experiences with respondents' socio-demographic characteristics were estimated using probit and ordered probit models. Slightly more than one-third of adults aged 55 years and older reported owning a pet. Pet owners reported mostly positive experiences with pet ownership, with women showing higher pet bonding levels than men. Moreover, pet ownership was less common among adults aged 75 and older and individuals living in apartments. At the same time, older pet owners aged 75 and above, pet owners living in apartments, and pet owners without a partner reported more positive perceptions and experiences of owning a pet. These findings suggest that promoting pet ownership may help individual well-being and feelings of companionship, especially among women, older adults, and individuals without a partner but also points toward potential selection effects into pet ownership. Financial costs of pet ownership appear to be an important challenge for some older pet owners, notably those with relatively low levels of education and more limited financial resources.

Keywords: Human-animal interactions; Perceived benefits, challenges.