Association between pet ownership and the risk of dying from colorectal cancer: an 18-year follow-up of a national cohort

  • Atin Adhikari
  • Yudan Wei
  • Naduparambil Jacob
  • Andrew R. Hansen
  • Kassandra Snook
  • Chad E. Burleson
  • Jian ZhangEmail author
Original Article



Despite the popularity of pets, research on the relationship between pet ownership and the risk of cancer remains minimal and inconclusive.


To longitudinally examine the association between pet ownership and the risk of dying from colorectal cancer.


We analyzed the data of a nationally representative cohort of 13,929 adults aged ≥ 19 years who answered the question about pet ownership in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 1988–1994. The vital status was followed through 31 December 2010.


Approximately, 43% of the participants had pets, 26% with dogs, 20% with cats and 5% with birds. By the end of an 18-year follow-up (mean = 15 years), 70 colorectal cancer deaths were recorded. After adjustment for socio-demographic factors, cigarette smoking, alcohol drinking, body mass index, physical activity, history of atopic conditions and serum cotinine measured at the baseline survey, the hazard ratio (HR) of dying from colorectal cancer associated with having any pets was 2.83 (95% CI = 1.51–5.30) compared with non-pet owners. This association was largely attributed to owning a cat. The HR of dying from colorectal cancer for owning a cat was 2.67 (1.22–5.86). The HR for owning a dog was 0.89 (0.37–2.12).


Having a cat was significantly associated with an elevated risk of dying from colorectal cancer among the general population. The observed detrimental effects the cats conferred may not be explained by confounding effects from socio-demographics, cigarette smoking, sedentary life or atopic conditions.


Longitudinal study Mortality Pet ownership Colorectal cancer NHANES 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

No conflict of interest needs to be disclosed.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public HealthGeorgia Southern UniversityStatesboroUSA
  2. 2.Department of Community MedicineMercer University School of MedicineMaconUSA
  3. 3.Department of Radiation OncologyOhio State University Comprehensive Cancer CenterColumbusUSA
  4. 4.Department of Community Health, Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public HealthGeorgia Southern UniversityStatesboroUSA
  5. 5.Department of Epidemiology, Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public HealthGeorgia Southern UniversityStatesboroUSA

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