|Studies show that having a dog can reduce the rish of dying. / Photo credit by Richard Theis via 123rf|
As if being a loyal companion wasn't enough, scientists have discovered yet another excellent reason to get a dog: living longer. A new study and a separate meta-analysis on pet ownership found that getting a canine can help lower the risk of death, especially among those who have survived a stroke or heart attack.
The new findings add to the growing evidence that pet ownership, specifically dog ownership, is associated with decreased cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk as well as increased survival in individuals with established CVD.
Reducing the risk of death
Earlier studies have established the association between dog ownership and decreased CVD risk. Canine companionship was found to help lower blood pressure levels, improve lipid profile, and stress. But these findings fail to provide a clear link between having a dog and improved survival, with the previous research yielding conflicting results.
This led the researchers of the recent study, published in the American Heart Association (AHA) journal "Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes," to investigate the association of dog ownership with all-cause mortality—both with and void of prior CVD—and cardiovascular mortality.
The review involved a pooling data of 3,837,005 participants from the US, Canada, Scandinavia, New Zealand, Australia, and the UK. Results show dog owners were 24 percent less likely to die of any reason, American news agency CNN reports, adding that the meta-analysis yielded greater benefit for heart attack and stroke survivors.
"For those people, having a dog was even more beneficial," said Caroline Kramer, lead author of a new systematic review. "They had a 31 percent reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease."
This finding holds implications on lifestyle interventions in preventing mortality due to heart attacks and strokes, which the World Health Organization says are the leading causes of death globally (accounting for a combined 15.2 million deaths in 2016).
A separate study of over 336,000 people in Sweden shows similar results; dog ownership leads to better health outcomes following a major cardiovascular event like stroke and heart attack, especially if the survivor lives alone.
Previous research shows social isolation and lack of physical activity have negative effects on patients. Earlier studies also indicate that dog ownership eases social isolation while also improving physical activity and lowering blood pressure. This has led researchers to theorize that dog owners may have better cardiovascular outcomes compared to non-owners.
The findings, also published in the AHA "Circulation" journal, indicate a 33 percent lower risk of death for lone heart attack survivors who owned dogs compared to non-owners while stroke survivors living alone have a 27 percent reduced risk of death.
Researchers of the study also found that dog owners who survived a heart attack and are living with a partner or a child have a 15 percent lower risk of death while stroke patients of the same nature have a 12 percent reduced risk.
Meanwhile, a review of data of over 3.8 million patients from 10 different studies found significant decreases as well:
• 24 percent reduced risk of all-cause mortality;
• 65 percent survival rate following a heart attack; and
• 31 percent reduced risk of mortality due to cardiovascular-related issues.
"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" Tove Fall, author of the Swedish study from Uppsala University, said in an AHA press release.
"Furthermore, keeping a dog is a good motivation for physical activity, which is an important factor in rehabilitation and mental health," she added.
Not the direct cause
Although the two studies indicate significant results, they were both observational, which means that the researchers can't prove that having a dog directly results in longer life or better health outcomes after a heart attack and stroke. CNN says only a randomized clinical trial holds the answers to these questions.
Still, dog ownership provides other great benefits aside from reducing death risks. This includes a better cholesterol profile, lower blood pressure, as well as reduced anxiety and depression, which is crucial after a major illness.
|Researchers believed that dog owners may have better cardiovascular outcomes as it eases social isolation and improves physical activity. / Photo credit by Dmitrii Shironosov via 123rf|
"We know that if you have depression after a heart attack, you're more likely to have a poor outcome," said Martha Gulati, editor-in-chief of CardioSmart.org, the American College of Cardiology's patient education platform.
Some cardiologists see the benefits of owning a dog and even prescribe owning one to their patients if they believe that the person can take care of 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.
She added that if possible, she encourages her patients to get a dog—possibly an older canine in need of rescuing and not a puppy that's a lot harder to manage.