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People with dogs live longer and have healthier hearts, study finds

Owning a dog appears to be associated with living a longer life, scientists have found.

People with pooches seem to also be less likely to die after suffering a heart attack or stroke, a study and meta-analysis show.

The American Heart Association’s findings reveal that dog owners are:

  • 24% less likely to die from anything

  • 65% less likely to die after a heart attack

  • 31% less likely to die from cardiovascular issues

  • 27% less likely to die after having a stroke when living alone

<who> Photo credit: File

Their work has been published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

"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, 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. 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."

Among the possible reasons for the reduction in mortality are an increase in physical activity and a decrease in depression and loneliness.

"We know that social isolation is a strong risk factor for worse health outcomes and premature death,” said Tove Fall, professor at Uppsala University in Sweden.

“Previous studies have indicated that dog owners experience less social isolation and have more interaction with other people. Furthermore, keeping a dog is a good motivation for physical activity, which is an important factor in rehabilitation and mental health."

But she added: "The results of this study suggest positive effects of dog ownership for patients who have experienced a heart attack or stroke.

“However, more research is needed to confirm a causal relationship and giving recommendations about prescribing dogs for prevention. Moreover, from an animal welfare perspective, dogs should only be acquired by people who feel they have the capacity and knowledge to give the pet a good life."

Caroline Kramer, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, said the findings “suggest that having a dog is associated with longer life.”

She added: “As a dog owner myself, I can say that adopting Romeo (a Schnauzer) has increased my steps and physical activity each day, and he has filled my daily routine with joy and unconditional love."

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