Can pets play a role in healthy human aging? GAS and Mars Petcare team up to investigate

The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) — the nation's largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to the field of aging — has formed an innovative partnership with the world's leading pet nutrition and pet health business Mars Petcare to advance research in the area of human-animal interaction (HAI) among older adults.

Life expectancy has vastly increased in many parts of the world, and while pet ownership and other types of HAI have demonstrated benefits to human health, very little is known about the potential role that pets may play in healthy aging.

In April, GSA convened a workshop in Washington, DC attended by international experts in the fields of human-animal interaction research and aging research who began to develop a roadmap for this emerging field of study. The participants addressed the roles of companion animals in the lives of older adults, such as mitigating loneliness, social isolation, and depression; and enhancing mobility and cognitive function.

"Recent research and education has concentrated on the role of pets in childhood and adolescence," said GSA Executive Director and CEO James Appleby, BSPharm, MPH. "However, there is a growing need for dedicated research on the aging adult and the impact of pets on overall quality of life. Thanks to GSA's new partnership with Mars Petcare, we will establish a multidisciplinary, expert workgroup to advance our knowledge of HAI."

This new GSA-led workgroup will help guide the organization in developing valuable, credible, and trusted resources to provide awareness of all aspects of HAI as it relates to aging, including a report from the April workshop outlining the event's major insights and conclusions to help in advancing scientific research endeavors.

To maintain this initial momentum, GSA has formed an interest group on HAI, which will provide an important forum for interested scholars to discuss — online and in-person — the potential for companion animals to contribute to quality of life for older adults. Its inaugural meeting is scheduled at GSA's Annual Scientific Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, this November.

"The special bond between people and their companion animals deserves exploration as a means of improving human health in a rapidly aging world," said Nancy Gee, PhD, a GSA member and the HAI research manager at Mars Petcare's WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition. "The field of HAI research is a ripe one, ready for development and expansion, for gerontologists and other researchers interested in older populations."


WALTHAM is currently calling for applications for a funding opportunity that will support research into the role of companion animals in facilitating healthy human aging (

GSA's other planned activities related to HAI include additional publications, symposia, and grants that will advance this important field of scientific endeavor.

The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) is the nation's oldest and largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to research, education, and practice in the field of aging. The principal mission of the Society — and its 5,500+ members — is to advance the study of aging and disseminate information among scientists, decision makers, and the general public. GSA's structure also includes a policy institute, the National Academy on an Aging Society, and an educational branch, the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education.

Mars Petcare is the world's leading pet nutrition and health care business that strives to make A Better World for Pets® every day. Mars Petcare believes that pets make our lives better and that pet ownership brings joy and benefits which should be accessible to everyone. Mars Petcare has around 40 brands in our portfolio, including billion dollar brands PEDIGREE®, WHISKAS®, ROYAL CANIN®, BANFIELD®, and IAMS®. Other leading brands include: CESAR®, NUTRO®, SHEBA®, DREAMIES®, KITEKAT®, CHAPPI®, CATSAN®, FROLIC®, PERFECT FIT®, GREENIES®, EUKANUBA and NATURA. Key specialty brands include: Mars Fishcare: API®, Aquarian®, Rena®, Pondcare®; Mars Horsecare: Winergy®, Spillers®, Buckeye® Equivite®; the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, a leading scientific authority on pet nutrition and wellbeing. Mars Petcare has more than 40,000 Associates worldwide.

Celebrating over 50 years of innovative science, the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition is a leading scientific authority in advancing the frontiers of research into the nutrition and health of companion animals. Located in Leicestershire, England, the renowned state-of-the-art science institute for Mars, Incorporated generates knowledge that enables the development of innovative products that meet pets' needs in a practical way. Since the publication of its first original research in 1963, WALTHAM has pioneered many important breakthroughs in the field of pet nutrition and human-animal interaction, resulting in more than 1,700 publications, including over 600 peer-review scientific papers. Today, WALTHAM continues to collaborate with the world's foremost scientific institutes, driving Mars Petcare's vision to create a better world for pets and providing the science and expertise that underpins leading Mars brands such as PEDIGREE®, WHISKAS®, ROYAL CANIN®, Banfield Pet Hospital, and IAMS®, CESAR®, NUTRO®, SHEBA®, DREAMIES® and EUKANUBA®.

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Todd Kluss

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