A new study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes has found that you may have a longer life and better cardiovascular health if you own a dog.
The news, not necessarily surprising to pup parents, comes from two well-done studies and analyses that were built upon prior studies and the conclusion of a scientific statement from the American Heart Association in 2013.
Dr. Glenn N. Levine is the chair of the writing group of the American Heart Association’s scientific statement on pet ownership, ‘Pet Ownership and Cardiovascular Risk,’ and said that dog ownership is associated with the reduction in factors that added to cardiovascular events and cardiac risk.
Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes is a journal of the American Heart Association, and published both the study and a separate meta-analysis. Dr. Levine says that they offer quality data that shows an association of dog ownership with reduced cardiac and other/all-cause mortality.
He notes that the non-randomized studies couldn’t necessarily prove that dog ownership leads to a longer life, but these findings are quite suggestive of the possibility.
Prior studies have shown that owning a dog helps eliminate social isolation as it also improves one’s physical activity level and can even be shown to lower blood pressures. Researchers in the study and meta-analysis wanted to see how dog ownership affected health outcomes and because of this and the prior research, it’s believed that compared to those who don’t own dogs, dog-owners have better cardiovascular outcomes.
The researchers looked at the health outcomes of those who owned dogs and those who didn’t post-heart attack or stroke. The data came from the Swedish National Patient Register and the patients were Swedish residents between the ages of 40-85.
When they compared the patients who owned a dog to those who didn’t, the researchers found that the risk of death for those patients who’d had heart attacks and then lived alone after hospitalization was 33% lower. And for those who lived with a partner or child, the risk for dog owners was still 15% lower than those who didn’t have a dog.
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The study looked at 182,000 people who had recorded heart attacks and 6% of them were dog owners. It also looked at almost 155,000 people who had recorded ischemic strokes and 5% were dog owners. This information was confirmed by the Swedish Board or agriculture, which mandates registration of dog ownership.
Dr. Tove Fall is a veterinarian and professor at Uppsala University in Sweden. He says that the lower risk of death in those who owned dogs could be because they had increased physical activity and decreased occurrences of loneliness and depression. As social isolation is a strong risk factor for premature death and poor health outcomes, owning a dog battles that and helps motivate for physical activity and mental health.
Dr. Fall says that more research is needed to confirm a causal relationship but could lead to giving ‘prescriptions’ for dogs as prevention for better life outcomes. That said, he believes that for the sake of dogs’ welfare, people who have the knowledge and ability to give the dogs a good life should consider doing so.
Additionally, the meta-analysis review of nearly 4 million people that were taken from 10 different studies also showed that dog owners had a 24% reduced risk of mortality from all-causes, 65% reduced risk of death after a heart attack and a 31% reduced risk of death due to cardiovascular issues.
Dr. Caroline Kramer is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto and said that having a dog was associated with lower blood pressure levels, better cholesterol levels, and increased physical activity. They would expect the better outcomes they found from the review.
Dr. Kramer also says that findings suggested dog ownership was associated with longer life, and that the next step in research would be to evaluate heart-related outcomes after adopting a dog.