Keep Your Pet Healthy in 2020 Keep Your Pet Healthy in 2020

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This Pet May Lower Your Risk for a Heart Attack by 31%

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

benefits of owning a dog

Story at-a-glance -

  • Dog ownership is associated with a 24% lower risk of dying from any cause, compared to not owning a dog
  • For people with a history of prior coronary events, such as a heart attack or stroke, living in a home with a dog led to an even greater risk reduction for all-cause mortality
  • When only studies involving cardiovascular mortality were factored in, dog owners had a 31% lower risk of cardiovascular death compared to non-owners
  • Dog owners living alone who had a heart attack had a 33% lower risk of death compared to non-dog owners, while the same population had a 27% lower risk of death following a stroke
  • Dogs benefit blood pressure, encourage their owners’ physical activity and may help relieve stress and loneliness, all of which can benefit heart health and overall health

Dogs have a special place in many people’s hearts, and their unconditional love comes with immeasurable benefits, including those that relate to your physical health. In addition to enjoying the companionship and cuddles that dogs provide, research continues to show that dog ownership is good for your heart and may even lower your risk of dying from heart-related problems.

In fact, in a systematic review and meta-analysis, published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, researchers analyzed data from 10 studies involving more than 3.8 million dog owners and revealed some impressive statistics regarding dog ownership and survival.1

Owning a Dog Lowers Risk of Death by 24%

Notably, the review found that dog ownership was associated with a 24% lower risk of dying from any cause, compared to not owning a dog. For people with a history of prior coronary events, such as a heart attack or stroke, living in a home with a dog led to an even greater risk reduction for all-cause mortality.

In fact, when only studies involving cardiovascular mortality were factored in, dog owners had a 31% lower risk of cardiovascular death compared to non-owners. “Dog ownership is associated with lower risk of death over the long term, which is possibly driven by a reduction in cardiovascular mortality,” the researchers concluded.2

The study’s lead author, Dr. Caroline Kramer of the University of Toronto, added in a news release, "Our analysis found having a dog is actually protective against dying of any cause."3

Dog Owners Have Better Survival After Heart Attack or Stroke

Similarly, separate research looked into the effects of dog ownership on survival following a major cardiovascular event, like a heart attack or stroke, and researchers noted significant benefits. Dog owners had a lower risk of death during the study’s follow-up period after being hospitalized for a heart attack or ischemic stroke.4

Dog owners also had a reduced risk of hospitalization for recurrent heart attack. Researchers concluded, “We found evidence of an association of dog ownership with a better outcome after a major cardiovascular event.”5 In this case the benefits were most significant for people living alone.

Dog owners living alone who had experienced a heart attack had a 33% lower risk of death compared to non-dog owners, while the same population had a 27% lower risk of death following a stroke. Study author Tove Fall of Uppsala University in Sweden told CNN that some of the benefits could be due to the companionship that pets provide, as well as their requirement for physical activity:6

"We know that loneliness and social isolation are strong risk factors for premature death and our hypothesis was that the company of a pet can alleviate that … Single owners have to do all the dog walks and we know that physical activity is important in rehabilitation after a myocardial infarction or stroke."

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Live Alone? A Dog May Protect Your Heart

Past research has also hinted at the benefits of dog ownership for people who live alone, in particular. A Scientific Reports study, released in November 2017,7 involved health records from 3.4 million people between the ages of 40 and 80 in Sweden. Those who owned a dog were 11% less likely to die from any cause and 15% less likely to die of a heart problem during the 12 years included in the study, but those living alone gained an added benefit of reduced heart attack risk.8,9

The latter population was 11% less likely to have a heart attack, along with 33% less likely to die of any cause and 36% less likely to die of a heart problem, compared to single non-dog owners. Owning a hunting breed dog, such as a retriever or scent hound, was associated with the lowest risk of heart disease overall.

Dogs Reduce Blood Pressure

Another heart-related benefit to owning a dog? They’re linked to healthier blood pressure levels. A pilot study found owning a dog may lead to lower levels of systolic blood pressure in older adults,10 and the benefit wasn’t solely due to increased activity, such as taking the dog for a walk.

This suggests there’s another way your furry family member might be benefiting your health, perhaps by reducing stress levels or loneliness. Other research presented at the 22nd Annual Scientific Sessions of the Society of Behavioral Medicine involved 30 patients with borderline high blood pressure who either adopted a dog from a shelter or put off adoption.

In follow-ups at two and five months, those who went ahead with the adoption had significantly lower systolic blood pressure than those who did not. When all 30 patients had adopted a dog, the drop in blood pressure was similar for both groups.11

While some people worry they may not be fit to own a dog following a heart attack or other cardiovascular event, some doctors are known to encourage it, as it keeps patients active and engaged in a sense of purpose. Dr. Martha Gulati, the editor-in-chief of the American College of Cardiology's patient education platform, told CNN:12

"I know a lot of my patients often say to me after they have a heart attack or stroke, can I even take care of a dog? They worry because they don't want to leave the dog alone if something happens to them … But if possible, I always encourage them to get a dog, perhaps an older dog who needs to be rescued and not a puppy that will be harder to manage."