Dogs can help you reduce risks of early deaths, here’s why

Photo by Berkay Gumustekin on Unsplash

A new study says that people who own dogs can have a longer and healthier lifestyle in comparison to those who do not have a furry four-legged animal in their household.

To be specific, researchers found that dog ownership was associated to a 24-percent reduced risk of death from any cause among the general public, and a 33 percent lower risk of death among heart attack survivors who live alone, according to the reports, published Tuesday in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, a journal of the American Heart Association.

“Our analysis found having a dog is actually protective against dying of any cause,” said Mount Sinai endocrinologist Dr. Caroline Kramer, lead author of a new systematic review of nearly 70 years of global research.

The research involved the review of the health benefits of the household pet of nearly 4 million people across different countries, namely: the United States, Canada, Scandinavia, New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

Notably, pet owners have a general 24% reduced risk from death, but the research points that there’s an even higher 31% reduced risk from death caused by cardiovascular problems such as a heart attack or a stroke.

“There are studies suggesting that individuals who have dogs have a better cholesterol profile and lower blood pressure,” said Kramer, who is a dog owner.

Institutions such as the American Heart Association points out that dog ownership is a major contributing factor that promotes healthier lifestyles. The organization pointed out that pet owners who walk their dogs got up to 30 minutes more exercise a day than non-walkers.

In a separate study, which merged data from the Swedish National Patient Register that included information on all Swedes from the ages of 40 to 85 who had a heart attack or stroke between January 2001 and December 2012, with data from the Swedish Kennel Club and the Swedish Board of Agriculture dog registers.

The researchers found that out of the 181,696 patients who had a heart attack, 5.7 percent owned a dog, and out of 154,617 who had a stroke, 4.8 percent are dog owners.

After accounting for factors such as age, other health issues, marital status, the presence of children in the home and income, the researchers found that heart attack survivors who lived alone had a 33 percent lower risk of death in the year after their heart attack if they had a dog, compared with non-dog owners.

Other than promoting a healthier and more active lifestyle, Kramer also pointed out that dogs can be effective companions to relieve stress and anxiety, which are also necessary after a major illness, such as a heart attack or stroke.

“We know that loneliness and sedentary lifestyle is a major risk factor for premature death,” said study co-author Tove Fall, a professor of molecular epidemiology at Uppsala University in Sweden. “Dogs are excellent motivation for their owners to get outdoors and walk them.”

Overall, however, medical practitioners point out that the studies are merely observational and will need further research to validate the findings truly.

“While these non-randomized studies cannot ‘prove’ that adopting or owning a dog directly leads to reduced mortality, these robust findings are certainly at least suggestive of this,” said Dr. Glenn Levine, chair of the writing group of the American Heart Association’s scientific statement on pet ownership.

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