Dog Ownership and Exercise

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

JANUARY 17, 2017

I was delighted to see this Canadian study about a possible association between dog ownership and exercise for cancer survivors. Spoiler alert: the findings don't support an increase in high or moderate exercise among dog owners, but I honestly find that a bit baffling. It seems pretty impossible to own a dog and not spend at least some time outside and walking. Exceptions might be small city dogs who use pads, but those are a minority of canine friends.

The study does not look at other possible benefits of having a dog: unqualified love, companionship, a built in social support network. Is it obvious yet that I am a dog lover? Trying to maintain some neutrality, I can easily acknowledge the downsides: cost, the need to hire dog sitters, possible damage to rugs and furniture, needing to consider the dog's schedule and needs when making plans. For me, those real negatives have always been instantly trumped by the steady loving gaze.

Here is the abstract and a link to read more. Note that you can download the whole PDF for free.

Associations between dog ownership and physical activity among breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer survivors Cynthia C Forbes1, PhD, Chris M Blanchard1, PhD, W Kerry Mummery2, PhD, & Kerry S. Courneya2, PhD

Background Dog ownership has been associated with higher rates of physical activity (PA) in several populations but no study to date has focused on cancer survivors. The purpose of this study was to examine the associations between dog ownership and PA among cancer survivors and to examine correlates of dog ownership.
Methods A stratified random sample of 2062 breast cancer survivors, prostate cancer survivors, and colorectal cancer survivors was mailed a questionnaire assessing PA, social cognitive, dog ownership, demographic, and medical variables.
Results Overall, 25% of the sample was dog owners (DOs). There were no significant differences in moderate, vigorous, or total PA minutes between DOs and non–dog owners. There was a significant difference in light PA minutes in favor of DOs (153 vs 112 minutes; 95% CI = 4 to 77; P = .030), however, this was largely restricted to breast cancer survivors (143 vs 79 minutes; 95% CI = 25 to 102; P = .001) who also reported fewer vigorous PA minutes (18 vs 39 minutes; 95% CI = −42 to −1; P = .042). Survivors were more likely to be DOs if they had breast cancer (P = .054), a higher income (P = .021), radiation therapy (P = .029), chemotherapy (P = .010), were younger (P < .001), employed (P < .001), and a current smoker (P = .015). Few social cognitive variables were associated with DO.
Conclusions Dog ownership among cancer survivors was not associated with moderate to vigorous PA but was associated with light PA. Further research is necessary to determine if promoting dog ownership and dog walking among cancer survivors may increase PA and possibly improve health outcomes.


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Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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