Dog ownership strengthens cardiovascular health
Dogs are not only loyal companions, they also have positive effects on the health of dog owners. Two recent studies have shown that cardiovascular health is strengthened and life expectancy increases significantly - especially among survivors of a heart attack or stroke. This also confirms previous study results, which had already shown significant benefits for the heart health of dog owners. From a health point of view, there is a lot to be said for thinking about buying a dog.
Earlier studies had shown that dog owners have various health benefits. Two recent studies (one of which is a meta-study) now prove once again that there are clear positive effects on cardiovascular health and life expectancy among dog owners. The American Heart Association has summarized the key results of the studies in a press release. The studies were published in the journal "Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes".
Benefits of dog keeping confirmed by new studies
"These two studies provide good, high-quality data that indicate that dog ownership is associated with reduced heart and overall mortality," said Dr. Glenn N. Levine from the American Heart Association. The studies confirm the results of previous studies that have already shown benefits for cardiovascular health, reports Dr. Levine continues. In these older studies it was also clear that dog husbandry counteracts social isolation, improves physical activity and even lowers blood pressure.
Benefits after a heart attack or stroke
The first study analyzed the health data of dog owners and people without a dog after a survived heart attack or stroke. A total of 182,000 people with a heart attack (around six percent of them with dogs) and around 155,000 people with an ischemic stroke (almost five percent of which dog owners) were taken into account. All participants came from Sweden and were between 40 and 85 years old.
According to the results of the study, dog ownership had the following advantages:
- Reduced risk of death in the study period for heart attack patients; people living alone 33 percent less, people with partners or children 15 percent less.
- Reduced risk of death in the study period for stroke patients; people living alone are 27 percent lower, people with partners or children 12 percent lower.
- All-cause mortality risk reduced by 24 percent.
- Risk of death from heart attack or stroke reduced by 31 percent.
Physical activity and less social isolation
Although the study results indicate positive effects of dog ownership in people who have had a heart attack or stroke, more research is needed to verify a causal relationship. Possible explanations for the lower risk of death in connection with keeping dogs could be an increase in physical activity and reduced social isolation, according to Dr. Levine. A dog's posture is a good motivation for physical activity, which is an important factor for rehabilitation and mental health, adds Professor Tove Fall from the University of Uppsala in Sweden.
Overall mortality significantly reduced
In the second new study - a meta-study based on data from over 3.8 million people from ten previous studies - the researchers found that dog ownership:
- reduced overall mortality in the study period by 24 percent,
- reduced the risk of death from a heart attack by 65 percent;
- reduced the risk of death from cardiovascular problems by 31 percent.
Further studies required
"A dog has been associated with increased physical activity, lower blood pressure and a better cholesterol profile in previous studies," said Dr. Caroline Kramer of the University of Toronto in the press release from the American Heart Association. The current results indicate that a dog is also associated with a longer life, Dr. Kramer continues. However, no disruptive factors such as better fitness or an overall healthy lifestyle were taken into account in the analyzes. Additional (interventional) studies to evaluate cardiovascular results after the introduction of a dog are now required.
If the results in relation to cardiac patients are confirmed in further examinations, prescribing dogs for prevention may be a sensible recommendation, the researchers continue. However, it should always be borne in mind that, from an animal welfare perspective, dogs should only be acquired by people who also have the ability and knowledge to enable the pet to live a good life.
Other advantages of keeping dogs
In general, dogs offer significant health benefits - not just for survivors after a heart attack or stroke. A study by the renowned Mayo Clinic recently showed that dog owners have improved heart health. Children can also benefit from contact with dogs, because according to a study from 2017, children with a dog develop less eczema, asthma and allergies in the household.
These are just two examples of many positive effects that speak for dog ownership. But for most dog owners it is probably much more important that their dogs are always loyal companions. (fp)
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Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters
- American Heart Association: Dog ownership associated with longer life, especially among heart attack and stroke survivors (published 08.10.2019), eurekalert.org
- Mwenya Mubanga, Liisa Byberg, Agneta Egenvall, Erik Ingelsson, Tove Fall: Dog Ownership and Survival After a Major Cardiovascular Event; in: Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes (published 08.10.2019), ahajournals.org
- Caroline K. Kramer, Sadia Mehmood, Renée S. Suen: Dog Ownership and Survival; Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes (published 10/08/2019), ahajournals.org