If you have a dog, and especially if you live alone, chances are you’re likely to live longer and have less risk of heart attack or stroke. “Dog ownership is associated with reductions in factors that contribute to cardiac risk and to cardiovascular events,” said Glenn Levine of the American Heart Foundation (AHF). “Further, studies provide good, quality data indicating dog ownership is associated with reduced cardiac and all-cause mortality.”
Examining data from people aged 40 to 85 who had a heart attack or stroke between 2001-2012, Swedish researchers found the risk of death for heart attack patients living alone after hospitalisation was 33 percent lower, and 15 percent lower for those living with a partner or child; the risk of death for stroke patients was 27 percent lower compared to 12 percent for cohabitators. The lower risk of death associated with dog ownership, say the researchers, may be explained by the findings of previous studies that showed an increase in physical activity and a decrease in rates of depression and stress.
“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, a 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.”
The Swedish findings chime with the results of a meta-analysis that looked at data drawn from ten different studies involving 3.8 million people. It found that dog owners were 65 percent less likely to die following a heart attack than non-dog owners.
However, as Levine points out, before the AHF prescribes dogs for prevention, more research is needed to confirm a causal relationship for better cardiovascular health. “While these non-randomised studies cannot 'prove' that adopting or owning a dog directly leads to reduced mortality, these robust findings are certainly at least suggestive of this.”