Dennis Thompson reports for HealthDay News, Oct. 8, 2019, that a pair of new studies of the available medical evidence found that dog owners have a lower risk of early death than people without canine companionship, particularly when it comes to dying from a heart attack or stroke.
Both reports were published Oct. 8 in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.
The two studies are:
- A study led by r. Caroline Kramer, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, Canada, which reviewed data for more than 3.8 million people taken from 10 separate studies.
- A Swedish study using data from the Swedish National Patient Register.
- Dog ownership decreases a person’s overall risk of premature death by 24%.
- The benefit of dog ownership is most pronounced in people with existing heart problems. Dog owners had a 65% reduced risk of death following a heart attack and a 31% reduced risk of death from heart disease.
- Heart attack and stroke victims who own dogs have a lower risk of dying, particularly if they live alone:
- Owning a dog reduced a heart attack patient’s risk of death by 33% if they live alone, and 15% if they live with a partner or child.
- Owning a dog reduced a stroke survivor’s risk of death by 12% for those living with someone.
- In the Swedish study, Dr. Mwenya Mubanga of Uppsala University and her colleagues combed Sweden’s patient database for all people aged 40 to 85 who had had a heart attack or stroke from 2001 through 2012. The investigators identified more than 181,000 heart attack victims, about 6% of whom owned a dog, and nearly 155,000 stroke survivors, of whom 5% owned a dog. Everyone who owned a dog had a reduced risk of death compared to those without a dog, but that risk was doubly reduced in people who lived alone versus those living with another person.
Why dog ownership prolongs life:
Dr. Kramer said part of the benefit is likely due to the physical activity that comes with having a dog. In fact, she undertook the research after noticing changes in her own behavior after she adopted her a miniature schnauzer named Romeo. Dr. Kramer said: “At the time when I started work on this, I’d had my dog for a year and I noticed that I was walking way more. There’s a lot of evidence that people who have dogs walk way more. Their degree of physical exercise is much more.”
Previous research has found that dog owners tend to have lower blood pressure, healthier cholesterol levels and less stress. Dr. Kramer said one study discovered that “the act of petting a dog reduces blood pressure as much as medication to treat hypertension.”
Dr. Dhruv Kazi, associate director of the Smith Center for Outcomes Research in Cardiology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, said: “My own hypothesis is that the biggest driver of this is what dog ownership does for one’s mental health.” Kazi said isolation and loneliness have been linked to poor heart health outcomes, and owning a dog appears to ease a person’s solitude enough to have a real benefit, which explains why people who live by themselves seemed to derive more benefits from dog ownership.
However, Kazi agrees that there are also physical benefits from having a dog because “If you own a dog, it doesn’t matter how tired you are or how cold out it is, you still have to go for a walk. That’s what you have to do.”
See also “Hearts of dogs and their owners beat in sync“.