Dear Dr. Roach: I recently read that a large percentage of orthopedic injury to the elderly is directly related to their falling while walking large animals, specifically dogs over 20 pounds. Can you shed light on this please? M.F.
Answer: A March 2019 study in JAMA Surgery did identify dog walking as an increasing cause of fracture. Over 4,000 fractures were identified among dog walkers over 65 in 2017, about triple the number 10 years earlier. However, this wasnt a large proportion of fractures (only about 2% of total fractures), and the authors did not identify the size of the dog as a risk factor, although they did suggest that clinicians recommend a smaller (and well-trained) dog as a wiser choice.
Dogs not only provide some social support, they also encourage exercise. I have had many patients (and a few family members) who have very meaningful connections with their dogs and other animals. In fact, I have seen many people who describe their animal companions as the most important relationship in their lives.