Owning a dog tied to lowering your risk of dying early by 24%, says science

Need an excellent reason to add a dog to your life? How about living longer?"Our analysis found having a dog is actually protective against dying of a...

Posted: Oct 8, 2019 3:59 PM

Need an excellent reason to add a dog to your life? How about living longer?

"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 published Tuesday in "Circulation," a journal of the American Heart Association.

The review of the health benefits of man's best friend analyzed research involving nearly 4 million people in the United States, Canada, Scandinavia, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom.

"Dog ownership was associated with a 24% reduction in all cause mortality," said Kramer, an assistant professor in the division of endocrinology and metabolism at the University of Toronto.

The meta-analysis found an even bigger benefit for people who had already had a heart attack or stroke.

"For those people, having a dog was even more beneficial. They had a 31% reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease," Kramer said.

Dogs and surviving illness

A separate study of more than 336,000 Swedish men and women, also published Tuesday in "Circulation," likewise found people who owned dogs had better health outcomes after suffering a major cardiovascular event such as heart attack or stroke.

Heart attacks and stroke are the leading causes of death globally, according to the World Health Organization.

The benefit was highest for dog owners who lived alone.

"The most interesting part of this study was that people who lived alone actually seem to get the greatest benefit in both the heart attack group and the stroke group," said dog owner Dr. Martha Gulati, who is the editor-in-chief of CardioSmart.org, the American College of Cardiology's patient education platform.

"People who lived with a dog actually had less mortality than people living alone who didn't have a dog," said Gulati, who was not involved in either study.

Heart attack survivors living alone who owned dogs had a 33% lower risk of death compared to people who did not own a dog. Stroke survivors living alone had a 27% reduced risk of death.

"We know that loneliness and social isolation are strong risk factors for premature death and our hypothesis was that the company of a pet can alleviate that," said study author Tove Fall, an associate professor of epidemiology at Uppsala University in Sweden.

"Single owners have to do all the dog walks and we know that physical activity is important in rehabilitation after a myocardial infarction or stroke," Fall added.

Observational but significant

Both published studies were observational, meaning that researchers cannot prove that dog ownership was the direct cause of the increased life expectancy or the better health outcomes after heart attack and stroke; only a randomized clinical trial could answer those questions.

"Is it the dog or is it the behaviors?" Gulati asked. "Is it because you're exercising or is it because there is a difference in the type of person who would choose to have a dog versus somebody who would not? Are they healthier or wealthier? We don't know those things."

The American Heart Association points to studies that found pet owners who walk their dogs got up to 30 minutes more exercise a day than non-walkers.

"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.

"One study, my favorite, found just the effect of petting a dog can reduce your blood pressure as much as a medication," Kramer said.

Other studies suggest dogs provide companionship and affection that can reduce anxiety and depression. That's especially important after a major illness, such as a heart attack or stroke.

"We know that if you have depression after a heart attack, you're more likely to have a poor outcome," Gulati said, which is one reason so many hospitals have begun using therapy dogs for cardiac patients.

In fact, a number of cardiologists believe in the benefits of dog ownership so much they will actually prescribe a dog for their patients, if they believe the person can appropriately care for a pet.

"I know a lot of my patients often say to me after they have a heart attack or stroke, can I even take care of a dog? They worry because they don't want to leave the dog alone if something happens to them," Gulati said.

"But if possible, I always encourage them to get a dog," she said, "perhaps an older dog who needs to be rescued and not a puppy that will be harder to manage."

What's the takeaway?

"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.

However, the AHA also says that pet ownership is a caring commitment that comes with certain financial costs and responsibilities, so "the primary purpose of adopting, rescuing, or purchasing a pet" should not be to reduce cardiovascular risk.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studies show dogs decrease stress and promote relaxation and impact nearly all stages of our lives.

"They influence social, emotional and cognitive development in children, promote an active lifestyle, and have even been able to detect oncoming epileptic seizures or the presence of certain cancers," the CDC said.

Does that mean that even younger people benefit from having a dog?

"The overall understanding of cardiovascular health is that the earlier that we implement healthier behaviors, the better," Kramer said. "So like walking, not smoking. And I think that maybe dog ownership is part of that."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 764448

Reported Deaths: 13965
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1049701803
Lake567981029
Allen42685698
St. Joseph37253568
Hamilton37131426
Elkhart29699470
Tippecanoe23347230
Vanderburgh23106404
Porter19538327
Johnson18755391
Hendricks18012321
Madison13463345
Clark13450198
Vigo12789255
LaPorte12533224
Monroe12494178
Delaware11100198
Howard10612237
Kosciusko9736123
Hancock8707149
Bartholomew8235157
Warrick8031157
Floyd7975181
Grant7337181
Wayne7222201
Boone7145105
Morgan6886142
Marshall6323116
Dubois6267118
Cass6083111
Dearborn598578
Noble595790
Henry5939111
Jackson514677
Shelby509097
Lawrence4901127
Gibson460696
Montgomery454492
Clinton453555
DeKalb451585
Harrison450576
Whitley414745
Huntington411781
Steuben409560
Miami404073
Jasper399455
Knox387091
Putnam383762
Wabash367383
Adams351656
Ripley350471
Jefferson340486
White338954
Daviess3084100
Wells302281
Greene292285
Decatur291493
Fayette285864
Posey280435
Scott278058
LaGrange276972
Clay273048
Washington252437
Randolph247083
Jennings238149
Spencer237531
Fountain233750
Starke229859
Owen221059
Sullivan219043
Fulton207645
Jay202832
Carroll196522
Orange190556
Perry189139
Vermillion179644
Rush177027
Franklin171635
Tipton171547
Parke153616
Pike141234
Blackford137832
Pulaski122948
Newton122436
Benton109215
Brown105743
Crawford105116
Martin92515
Warren87615
Switzerland8308
Union73510
Ohio58211
Unassigned0428

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1120922

Reported Deaths: 20467
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1300711493
Cuyahoga1169882259
Hamilton822191259
Montgomery533351059
Summit487911014
Lucas43688832
Butler39879614
Stark33752937
Lorain25937509
Warren24850312
Mahoning22663612
Lake21429396
Clermont20338260
Delaware19088138
Licking16820227
Trumbull16744491
Fairfield16735207
Medina15800276
Greene15468254
Clark14325308
Portage13391218
Wood13327201
Allen12026245
Richland11707213
Miami10976228
Wayne9238227
Columbiana9182236
Muskingum9114137
Pickaway8729123
Tuscarawas8706254
Marion8691140
Erie8109166
Ashtabula7264179
Hancock7039134
Ross7004165
Geauga6939153
Scioto6636108
Belmont6203179
Lawrence5905104
Union590049
Jefferson5718162
Huron5622122
Sandusky5467130
Darke5436130
Seneca5373128
Washington5352111
Athens526260
Auglaize506787
Mercer490285
Shelby480497
Knox4603112
Madison446966
Ashland441898
Defiance438099
Fulton435275
Putnam4349104
Crawford4103111
Brown408862
Preble3940107
Logan391479
Clinton387966
Ottawa374981
Highland364668
Williams355478
Champaign347560
Guernsey329554
Jackson321154
Perry298050
Morrow294543
Fayette287950
Hardin278865
Henry276967
Holmes2725102
Coshocton272461
Van Wert251465
Gallia248450
Adams247758
Pike244537
Wyandot235257
Hocking221763
Carroll200349
Paulding179342
Meigs150740
Noble137639
Monroe137445
Harrison115038
Morgan111524
Vinton87117
Unassigned03
Fort Wayne
Partly Cloudy
85° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 92°
Angola
Partly Cloudy
84° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 91°
Huntington
Cloudy
85° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 91°
Decatur
Partly Cloudy
85° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 92°
Van Wert
Partly Cloudy
86° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 92°
Showers and storms are possible early Sunday morning, but we'll be dry by sunrise. Partly sunny skies and hot conditions are expected for the second half of the weekend.
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events