Between 2004 and 2017, the annual number of fall-related fractures from walking leashed dogs increased from 1671 to 4396 among adults aged 65 years or older.
As older Americans try to remain active, dog walking is often touted as a way to improve physical health. However, according to a study published in JAMA Surgery, walking leashed dogs is associated with fall-related fractures among these individuals.
The researchers obtained data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System database of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission and identified 32,624 cases of fall-related fractures associated with walking leashed dogs between 2004 and 2017.
During the time period, the annual number of adults aged 65 years or older admitted to the 100 US emergency departments included in the database increased significantly from 1671 in 2004 to 4396 in 2017.
“This study highlights that while there are undoubtedly pros to dog walking, patients’ risks for falls must be factored into lifestyle recommendations in an effort to minimize such injuries,” said Kevin Pirruccio, a second-year medical student in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and lead author of the study, in a statement.
Most fractures were attributed to women, and most fractures occurred in the hip (17.3%). However, the upper extremity was the more frequently fractured region overall (52.1%).
“The gravity of this burden is exemplified by the hip being the most frequently fractured because this injury is associated with long-term decreases in quality of life and functional capabilities, as well as mortality rates approaching 30%,” wrote the researchers.
Clinicians can play a role in identifying at-risk patients and minimizing risk of fracture by advocating for preventive actions, which can include obedience training to ensure dogs do not lunge while leashed or suggesting smaller dog breeds for patients looking to get a dog.
They researchers noted that the study has limitations including that their findings likely underestimate the morbidity associated with elderly adults walking leashed dogs because only emergency department cases were included in the analysis, thus excluding less severe, nonfracture injuries. Additionally, the database does not include comparative dog sizes, cases requiring surgery, or disposition following discharge. According to the researchers, future research should clarify these characteristics.
Pirruccio K, Yoon Y, Ahn J. Fractures in elderly Americans associated with walking leashed dogs [published online March 6, 2019]. JAMA Surg. doi: 10.1001/jamasurg.2019.0061.