Families with young children haven’t been the only Americans to get in on the trend of adopting a new dog or cat during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the most recent National Poll on Healthy Aging, 10% of older adults between the ages of 50 and 80 also added a new pet to their households between March 2020 and January 2021.
That number was an even higher 16% among older people who have at least one child or teen living with them, the survey showed.
In all, 59% of people age 50 to 80 who completed the nationally representative poll in January 2021 said they are pet owners. Of that number, 17% said they had gotten at least one pet since the pandemic began, although the survey did not ask if this was their first pet or an additional pet.
Pet ownership was higher in the 2021 survey among people aged 50 to 64, women, those who are employed and those living in single-family detached homes, as well as white adults.
The new survey data was an update to a previous report published in April 2019. Older adults who participated in that survey said having a pet helps them enjoy life, have a sense of purpose, reduce stress, and stick to a routine. Dog owners in particular said their pet helps them stay more physically active.
Among older adults living alone or in self-reported fair or poor health when they participated in the 2019 poll, nearly 75% said their pet helped them cope with physical or emotional symptoms.
The percentage of those living alone who said their household includes a pet rose by 12 percentage points between the 2019 and 2021 surveys, reflecting the important role of pets as companions for older adults – which became especially critical during the pandemic, according to the report’s authors.