A new study by the University of Pennsylvania has found walking a dog with a leash increases the risk of injury in older adults. Between 2004 and 2017, bone fractures occurring while walking a leashed dog doubled for US residents 65 years and older. Over the 13 year period, the number of fractures increased from 1671 to 4396. This represents a 150% increase. According to the study, walking a leashed dog “imparts a significant and rising injury risk in older adults.”
Jaimo Ahn, co-author of the study and an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Penn Medicine does not intend for the study to discourage dog ownership or walking among seniors. Rather he encourages conversations between seniors and their doctors to discuss the risks associated with walking a leashed dog. Education and awareness could help prevent injury. While the study does not address the reasons for the increase, the senior population has grown as a percentage of the population as a whole. However, Dr. Ahn thinks other factors may be causing the increase including a higher activity level among baby boomers as well as a higher likelihood of physicians recommending dog ownership as a way to improve health.
The study did not look at details of the situation such as size or breed of dog or other factors surrounding the incident. It focused on older adults and did not address whether injuries from dog walking are increasing in the general population or just among seniors. The study also did not explain the rise in injuries or the overall health of the population and whether it is poorer and therefore, more prone to injury. It did not address whether the injuries occurred in areas less favorable for dog walking. Nor did it look at possible causes such as whether an injury occurred due to being distracted. Are more people looking at their cell phone instead of paying attention to where they are going?
Older people are more susceptible to bone fractures due to reduced bone mass and a higher frequency of falls. Older women are particularly at risk of sustaining an injury when they fall due to a higher incidence of osteoporosis as they age. In fact, 78.6 % of the fractures in the study occurred in women. Nearly eight in ten who sustained fractures were women 65 and older. The most common fractures were hips, wrists and upper arms.
Research demonstrates seniors who walk their dogs are healthier than their counterparts who don’t. The benefits of pet ownership are many. Pets help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and increase social interaction and physical activity for their owners. In addition, pets help lessen the effects of depression and reduce feelings of loneliness.
There are several ways to prevent injury while walking a leashed dog. Enroll your dog in a training program which teaches him the proper way to walk on a lead. As mentioned previously, education and awareness of the potential risks associated with walking a leashed dog are a good first step. Other preventative steps include wearing appropriate footwear for the terrain; finding a lead that is both comfortable for your pet and supportive for both you and your dog; choosing the safest route based on weather and avoiding those areas which might be icy, muddy, or flooding; and carrying a mobile phone in case of emergency. Strength training is also recommended. If you experience pain or discomfort while walking your dog, talk to your doctor. And finally if you need help finding a safe, comfortable lead for your dog, ask your veterinarian for recommendations.