Having a dog live with you isn’t just good company, it’s also good for your heart. According to two new studies published by the American Heart Association, dog owners have been found to live longer and have better cardiovascular outcomes, especially for heart attack and stroke survivors who live alone. (1)
“The findings in these two well-done studies and analyses build upon prior studies and the conclusions of the 2013 AHA Scientific Statement ‘Pet Ownership and Cardiovascular Risk’ that dog ownership is associated with reductions in factors that contribute to cardiac risk and to cardiovascular events,” said Glenn N. Levine, M.D., chair of the writing group of the American Heart Association’s scientific statement on pet ownership. “Further, these two studies provide good, quality data indicating dog ownership is associated with reduced cardiac and all-cause mortality.” (2)
Dog Ownership and Survival Rate After Heart Attack or Stroke
Researchers compared the health outcomes of dog owners and non-owners after a heart attack or stroke using health data provided by the Swedish National Patient Register. They found that dog owners experienced lower rates of death from heart attacks or strokes.
Participants in the study were Swedish residents ages 40-85 who experienced a heart attack or ischemic stroke between 2001 and 2012. Compared to people who did not own a dog, researchers found that for dog owners:
- The risk of death for heart attack patients living alone after hospitalization was 33% lower, and 15% lower for those living with a partner or child.
- The risk of death for stroke patients living alone after hospitalization was 27% lower and 12% lower for those living with a partner or child.
The lower risk of death associated with dog ownership could be due to an increase in physical activity and decrease in depression and loneliness, which previous studies have confirmed to be major heart factors.
“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,” said Tove Fall, D. V. M., professor at Uppsala University in Sweden. “Furthermore, keeping a dog is a good motivation for physical activity, which is an important factor in rehabilitation and mental health.” (3)
Having a dog to care involves going on walks regularly and even socializing with other dog owners along the way, which can help heart attack and stroke survivors in their recoveries.
“Having a dog was associated with increased physical exercise, lower blood pressure levels and better cholesterol profile in previous reports,” said Dr. Caroline Kramer, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto and an endocrinologist in New York. “As such, the findings that people who owned dogs lived longer and their risk for cardiovascular death was also lower are somewhat expected.” (4)