Want to live longer? New study says dogs can help

Grant Boone
October 9, 2019

That analysis was backed up by a separate Swedish study, which found that heart attack and stroke victims who own dogs have a lower risk of dying, particularly if they live alone. "As such, the findings that people who owned dogs lived longer and their risk for cardiovascular death was also lower are somewhat expected".

"The most interesting part of this study was that people who lived alone actually seem to get the greatest benefit in both the heart attack group and the stroke group", said pet owner Dr. Martha Gulati, who is the editor-in-chief of CardioSmart.org, the American College of Cardiology's patient education platform.

In a study of dog-owning and non-dog owning survivors of heart attacks or strokes, researchers determined that dog owners across the board experienced lower rates of death from heart attacks or strokes.

Increased physical activity plays a key role in the cardiovascular benefits of dog ownership, said Kramer, noting that her own step count has climbed "sky high" since she adopted Romeo, an energetic miniature schnauzer that she walks at least three times a day.

"My own hypothesis is that the biggest driver of this is what dog ownership does for one's mental health", said Kazi, who wrote an accompanying editorial about the two new reports.

The study participants were between the ages of 40 and 85 and had suffered heart attacks or strokes between 2001 and 2012.

In the meta-analysis, Researchers reviewed patient data of over 3.8 million people taken from 10 separate studies for a composite meta-analysis study.

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"People who had a heart attack prior to getting a dog had even more reduction in mortality", said lead author Dr. Previous studies have indicated that dog owners experience less social isolation and have more interaction with other people.

"One study, my favorite, found just the effect of petting a dog can reduce your blood pressure as much as a medication", Kramer said.

Professor Tove Fall, from Uppsala University, said keeping a dog can also help because it is a good motivation for physical activity, but warned that further research is needed. However, more research is needed to confirm a causal relationship and giving recommendations about prescribing dogs for prevention.

"Moreover, from an animal welfare perspective, dogs should only be acquired by people who feel they have the capacity and knowledge to give the pet a good life", he added.

Caroline Kramer, an endocrinologist at Mount Sinai Hospital, led the systematic review published by an American Heart Association journal. "They had a 31% reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease", Kramer said.

"We've known this forever, that pets make our lives better, but to know that the sum of it translates to better cardiovascular health is very exciting for those of us who like dogs and work in cardiology", Kazi said in a phone interview. Our analyses did not account for confounders such as better fitness or an overall healthier lifestyle that could be associated with dog ownership.

Part of the benefit is likely due to the physical activity that comes with having a dog, Kramer said.

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