Several friends speak the importance of pets for their health. They offer comfort in stressful times, add much-needed humor to their day, and for dog owners, they get them out of the house for walks, often in nature. Studies have shown pets are good for health. A new systematic review by Caroline Kramer and colleagues from the University of Toronto in the prestigious journal Circulation offers even more insight into how dogs support cardiovascular health.
Kramer looked at data generated between 1950 and 2019, examining baseline dog ownership and impacts on cardiovascular health. A total of ten studies totaling 3, 837,005 participants, and an average ten year follow up found a 24% all-cause risk reduction from heart disease when compared to non-dog owners. In six of the studies, significantly fewer deaths occurred in the dog-owning group. Even participants with prior cardiac events who reported having a dog in their home had reduced risk reduction compared to non-owners. When the authors restricted their analysis to mortality data- dog owners showed a 31% risk-reduction from cardiovascular disease.
When it comes to study design, observational studies are, by their very nature, not as methodologically rigorous as a randomized control trial. It is hard to control for all the variables that may be contributing to the outcome you are studying. That being said the sample size of the systematic review was large and prior studies have indicted the act of walking a dog, petting a dog and having companionship are known to reduce stress and blood pressure which are intermediate measures that when elevated for long periods can lead to cardiac endpoints like heart attack and stroke. Are dog owners fundamentally different from those who don’t own dogs? Do they live in different places? Eat different food? Have a different sleep and work patterns? All of these may be confounders and hard to control, but the signals in the data are enough for me to see that Fido is good for my health, I am still on the fence about cats though.
Thanks for reading – Trina
(Opinions are my own)
Dog ownership and survival