Aside from being heralded as “man’s best friend,” dogs have had an amazing presence in human history. Dog lovers have always known that their canine friends made their lives better, and now there is evidence that the special type of companionship only a dog can provide can help you live longer.
A huge systematic review of data collected from the past 70 years was conducted last fall to pinpoint why dog owners have improved cardiovascular markers. Recent research has indicated that people who own dogs have lower physiological responses to stress, lower blood pressures, and better lipid profiles than pet-free adults.
The systematic review scoured through 1156 studies. The main analyses correlated dog ownership to a 24% decrease in all-cause mortality. For fatalities related to cardiovascular events, owning a dog reduced mortality due to those conditions by a significant 31%. If you’ve already had a cardiac event, owning a dog can reduce the risk of having another one by 65%!
The obvious reasons for this improvement in health status could be linked to walking the dog or being more motivated to be more active. Indeed, an Australian study found that dog owners were 57% more likely to get all their steps in each day, and a study in Canada found that dog owners walked 300 minutes per week on average compared to non-owners who only averaged 168 minutes per week. However, even studies involving just videos of animals have benefited cardiovascular stress responses!
It’s clear that there is more than just the increased walking and activity that is making dog owners healthier. The social and emotional connection to our four-legged friends can be an important part of therapeutic strategies for cardiovascular health and overall reduction in mortality risks.
Kramer, Caroline K., et al. “Dog Ownership and Survival: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, vol. 12, no. 10, 8 Oct. 2019, doi:https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCOUTCOMES.119.005554.
“Pet Ownership and Cardiovascular Risk.” Circulation, vol. 127, no. 23, 9 May 2013, doi:https://doi.org/10.1161/CIR.0b013e31829201e1.
Wells, Deborah L. “The Effect of Videotapes of Animals on Cardiovascular Responses to Stress.” Stress and Health, vol. 21, no. 3, 17 May 2005, doi:https://doi.org/10.1002/smi.1057.