Background: It is commonly assumed that owning a pet provides older residents in the community with health benefits including improved physical health and psychological well-being. It has also been reported that pet owners are lower on neuroticism and higher on extraversion compared with those without pets. However, findings of research on this topic have been mixed with a number of researchers reporting that, for older people, there is little or no health benefit associated with pet ownership. Objective: To identify health benefits associated with pet ownership and pet caring responsibilities in a large sample of older community-based residents. Methods: Using survey information provided by 2,551 individuals aged between 60 and 64 years, we compared the sociodemographic attributes, mental and physical health measures, and personality traits of pet owners and non-owners. For 78.8% of these participants, we were also able to compare the health services used, based on information obtained from the national insurer on the number of general practitioner (GP) visits they made over a 12-month period. Results: Compared with non-owners, those with pets reported more depressive symptoms while female pet owners who were married also had poorer physical health. We found that caring for a pet was associated with negative health outcomes including more symptoms of depression, poorer physical health and higher rates of use of pain relief medication. No relationship was found between pet ownership and use of GP services. When we examined the personality traits of pet owners and carers, we found that men who cared for pets had higher extraversion scores. Our principal and unexpected finding, however, was that pet owners and carers reported higher levels of psychoticism as measured by the Revised Eysenck Personality Questionnaire. Conclusions: We conclude that pet ownership confers no health benefits for this age group. Instead, those with pets have poorer mental and physical health and use more pain relief medication. Further, our study suggests that those with pets are less conforming to social norms as indicated by their higher levels of psychoticism.

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