Your Dog May Help You Live Longer

Grant Boone
October 12, 2019

Cats may have nine lives, but owning a dog may extend yours, in Toronto researcher says.

In a new systemic review of almost 70 years of global research, scientists found that adopting a dog can reduce a person's risk of dying by 24 percent.

The authors undertook the review in an effort to reconcile differences in previously published literature on the topic, some of which showed a benefit to dog ownership, others which did not. Dog owners had a 65% reduced risk of death following a heart attack and a 31% reduced risk of death from heart disease, the researchers said.

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

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.

"Having a dog was associated with increased physical exercise, lower blood pressure levels and better cholesterol profile in previous reports", said Dr. They can also provide comfort and companionship, and even help introduce us to other people, whether at dog parks or simply on the street.

"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.

A man walks his dog on the boardwalk along Lake Ontaro in Toronto on Monday, January 16, 2017. About 210,000 of those heart attacks happen to people who have already had a heart attack.

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"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", said study author Tove Fall, an associate professor of epidemiology at Uppsala University in Sweden. Those types of studies are considered the gold standard of evidence, what you'd need to be able to say definitively that owning a dog causes people to live longer.

Researchers haven't done many studies, for instance, that direct one group of people to purchase a dog, and another group to remain petless, and track their health over a period of time.

One study discovered that "the act of petting a dog reduces blood pressure as much as medication to treat hypertension", Kramer said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack each year.

"There are studies suggesting that individuals who have dogs have a better cholesterol profile and lower blood pressure", said Kramer, who is a pet owner.

Some doctors even prescribe a dog for their patients.

Still, Kazi writes, the balance of the evidence to date convinces him that "the association between dog ownership and improved survival is real, and is likely at least partially causal".

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