A new report has found that older Australians are the least likely age demographic to own pets, particularly dogs. The surprising results were revealed in the annual Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (Hilda) Survey that covers 17,000 Australians. This year, for the first time, the survey asked participants about pets.
The survey found that although close to two-thirds of respondents have at least one pet, people aged over 65 account for 22.5 per cent of non-pet owners and only 11.1 per cent of pet owners. Those aged over 65 were also more likely to own cats than dogs.
Hilda researcher Dr Ferdi Botha from the University of Melbourne said this could be linked to over-65s’ pace of lifestyle.
“These results probably have a lot to do with life stage,” he said. “Older people are possibly less likely to want to maintain an active dog as a pet.”
Overall however, Australians were more likely to choose ‘man’s best friend’ with 72 per cent of pet-owning people having a dog. Cats were the second-most popular pet (37 per cent of Aussie pet owners have a cat), while 18 per cent owned a fish, and 16 per cent owned a bird.
But the surprising results didn’t stop there. While previous studies have shown that owning a pet increases happiness and wellbeing, the Hilda survey figures revealed that pet owners were 2.6 percentage points more likely to report being in poor mental health than those without pets. Overall, it deduced that cat owners – particularly those who also own a dog – appear to have a lower wellbeing than other pet owners.
However, Dr Botha emphasised that these results don’t imply that cats are the reason for a lower wellbeing but are simply associated with the feeling.
“It may be that people in poorer health and with lower life satisfaction would be worse off if they did not own the cat,” he said.
A previous study also found that cat owners are typically quieter and more reserved than dog owners meaning it could be more of a reflection on what the typical cat owner is like, rather than what owning a cat does to them.
And although the Hilda survey suggested cats don’t have a direct impact on people’s wellbeing, past studies have found that dogs possibly do. A study from 2020 looked into how different dog breeds reduce stress.
Researchers asked owners to wear a heart monitor while they cuddled their furry friend for five minutes and record the changes in their heart rate afterwards. The results found that snuggling up to a labrador was the best for reducing stress, followed by a German shepherd, beagle and a corgi.