Owning a Dog Linked to Living Longer, Lower Risk of Dying of a Heart Problem

Owning a dog has been linked to a longer life and a lower chance of dying of a heart problem, according to a pair of studies.

The research published in the American Heart Association-affiliated journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes is the latest to conclude that owning a dog could be beneficial to health.

Using Swedish national healthcare and dog ownership databases, professor Tove Fall at Uppsala University and colleagues identified patients aged between 40 and 85-years-old who had experienced heart attacks or strokes between 2001 and 2021.

A total of 181,696 patients had a heart attack and 154,617 had a stroke in this period, with 5.7 percent percent of the former and 4.8 percent of the latter owning dogs, respectively.

Dog owners who lived alone were 33 percent less likely to die after leaving hospital compared with those who didn't have a pooch, dropping to 15 percent if the individual had a partner or child at home.

In the other study, Dr. Caroline Kramer of the University of Toronto and her co-authors completed what is known as a meta-analysis by poring over the results of 10 existing studies on people with canine companions, and the overall chance of an owner dying of any cause. Some 3,837,005 million people were involved in the papers.

After studying the research published between 1950 and May 2019, the team found dog owners were 24 percent less likely to die prematurely of any cause; and had a 65 percent lower chance of dying after having a heart attack. They also appeared to benefit from a 31 percent lower chance of dying of a cardiovascular condition.

Fall, a veterinarian and professor of Molecular Epidemiology at Sweden's Uppsala University, commented in a statement: "We know that social isolation is a strong risk factor for worse health outcomes and premature death. Previous studies have indicated that dog owners experience less social isolation and have more interaction with other people.

"Furthermore, keeping a dog is a good motivation for physical activity, which is an important factor in rehabilitation and mental health," she said.

Dr. Caroline Kramer, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, said of her study in a statement: "Having a dog was associated with increased physical exercise, lower blood pressure levels and better cholesterol profile in previous reports.

"As such, the findings that people who owned dogs lived longer and their risk for cardiovascular death was also lower are somewhat expected," she said.

"The next step on this topic would be an interventional study to evaluate cardiovascular outcomes after adopting a dog and the social and psychological benefits of dog ownership," she suggested.

Vanessa Smith, senior cardiac nurse at the charity the British Heart Foundation, told Newsweek: "They say that dogs are man's best friend, but our four-legged companions could also benefit our hearts. Walking a pet helps you get fresh air, meaning you are less socially isolated, and it encourages you to take regular exercise.

"Whether you're a pet-owner or not, physical activity can benefit your heart in lots of different ways. It can help to reduce your risk of heart disease, help control your weight, and reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol. It can even improve your mental health. Just spending 10 minutes a day walking around the block is good for your heart health."

The research is part of a growing body of evidence lending support to the saying that dog is man's best friend—at least when it comes to our health.

In 2017, Fall published a paper in the journal Scientific Reports similarly linking pet dogs to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a lower overall risk of death.

And earlier this year, a separate study published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings also showed dog owners are more likely to have better heart health.

However, such work stops short of proving our furry friends aid health.

Dr. Deborah Wells, director of the Animal Behaviour Centre at Queen's University Belfast in the U.K., told Newsweek earlier this year: "This research area in general is sorely lacking in robust longitudinal studies—ones that monitor the health of people from the point of their new pet's acquisition. The cross-sectional design adopted in the majority of studies makes it difficult to infer cause and effect."

In August, Newsweek asked Fall if people should get dogs to try to improve their health. She responded: "With regards of getting a dog as a lifestyle intervention, I think it is important to highlight the dog welfare perspective, and only those with an interest and capacity to be a good dog owner should consider getting one."

This article has been updated with comment from Vanessa Smith.