Dog ownership linked to lowered risk following heart attack, stroke

Photo by Andrew Glen McCutcheon photos

No matter their size or their breed, dogs have long been considered the best friend of humanity.

Even if you might not consider yourself a dog person, there’s no denying the effect that dogs have played as companions, guides and helpers throughout the ages.

Even now, the fuzzy friends have been linked to a variety of emotional and social health benefits, but a recent study released by the American Heart Association (AHA) has linked dog ownership to a lower risk of death over the long term.

According to the study, this lowered risk is likely driven by a reduction in cardiovascular mortality — which is to say, owning dogs is likely good for one’s heart, literally.

“The findings in these two well-done studies and analyses build upon prior studies and the conclusions … that dog ownership is associated with reductions in factors that contribute to cardiac risk and to cardiovascular events,” said Glenn N. Levine, MD and chair of the writing group for the AHA.

The study itself looked at the data from 10 previous studies, reviewing the patient data of over 3.8 million people. The research found that compared to non-owners, dog owners experienced a 65 per cent reduced risk of death following a heart attack and a 31 per cent reduced risk of mortality due to heart-related issues.

Moreover, ownership was also connected to a 33 per cent lower risk of death for heart attack survivors who were living alone save for animal companionship.

The researchers believe these positive effects can be explained with two reasons: not only will dog ownership assist with depression, loneliness and social isolation, but also assist with an increase in physical activity and movement.

“Keeping a dog is a good motivation for physical activity, which is an important factor in rehabilitation and mental health,” said Tove Fall, a professor at Uppsala University in Sweden.

Further research will need to be done, however, to reach a level where physicians could potentially prescribe animals for companionship and health.

Plus, an injury or a chronic medical condition could hamper an individual’s ability to care for a pet, which must be taken into consideration when adopting.

“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,” Fall said.

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to one’s ability to take care of a furry friend — such as cost, physical necessities and space — but it seems that healthy dividends pay off with a canine companion at your side.