In recent years, there have been multiple studies into the effects of pet ownership. These have focused on both the physical and emotional benefits of having a pet. Now, a recent study has revealed that there are possibly even greater benefits of owning a dog than originally believed. Past studies have proven that owning a dog has many benefits for physical health. The Telegraph says that some of these benefits include lowered blood pressure, decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, and maintaining a healthy weight. These benefits are predominantly because of getting more exercise.
There are also benefits to a person’s mental health and general well-being if they own a dog. Stress, anxiety, and depression are all reduced, and there is a decreased risk of suffering from loneliness. Due to the emotional benefits of dog ownership, dogs are often used as therapy dogs to support things such as dementia care and people who have suffered a traumatic experience. Now, scientists are making the bold claim that owning a dog can help you to live longer. CNN Health reports that a huge study has been conducted, led by Dr. Caroline Kramer, an endocrinologist at Mount Sinai.
Kramer led a team of researchers in this systematic review that investigated almost 70 years of global data. The research involved the analysis of research relating to the benefits of dog ownership. The studies analysed were conducted across the globe in countries including the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Scandinavia. Almost four million people were involved in these studies. The findings of this analysis have been published in ‘Circulation.’
Kramer claims that the studies revealed that across all causes of mortality, there was a 24 percent reduction amongst those who owned a dog. The research also revealed that there were even bigger benefits for those who had already suffered a stroke or heart attack, as there was a 31 percent reduction in the risk of them dying as a result of cardiovascular disease. On the same day that this study was published in ‘Circulation’, a completely separate study was published that showed similar outcomes. A Swedish study including 336,000 people found that people who has suffered a major cardiovascular event, such as a stroke or a heart attack, had better health outcomes if they owned dogs. This study also discovered that the greatest benefits were for those who lived alone.
These findings are significant because the World Health Organization says that stroke and heart attack are the leading causes of death globally. Therefore, discovering that dog ownership could potentially reduce death rates from these conditions is important. Dr. Martha Gulati is a dog owner and the editor-in-chief for the American College of Cardiology’s patient education platform CardioSmart.org. Although Gulati was not involved in either study, Gulati was interested to read the findings. Gulati says that the most interesting finding from these studies is that the greatest benefits are for people who live alone.
Statistically, stroke survivors who live alone except for their dog had a reduced risk of death of 27 percent. The benefits are even higher for heart attack survivors who own a dog as they have a 33 percent lower risk of death than heart attack survivors who do not own a dog. Tove Fall is an associate professor of epidemiology at Uppsala University in Sweden and a lead author of the Swedish study. According to Fall, it is already proven that social isolation and loneliness are big risk factors for early death. Their study hypothesized that owning a pet can alleviate social isolation and loneliness, which then reduces the risk of premature death. Dog walking also played a part in the statistical benefits.
It is important to note that both the aforementioned studies are observational. This means that their findings that dog ownership reduces premature death are something they cannot prove, although it is backed up by evidence and statistics. It is possible that dog ownership is not a direct cause of an increased life expectancy, but an indirect factor that contributes to prolonged life. The only way to prove the results would be to undertake a clinical trial.
Gulati explains this situation further by saying that although the research suggests that dog ownership is the cause of the reduction in premature death, there are many other factors that come into play. For example, it is possible that there is a difference in the type of people who own a dog, that the results are simply because of increased exercise amongst dog owners, or because there is a difference in the financial status between those who own a dog and those who do not.
Kramer also notes that the amount of exercise taken by dog owners could significantly impact on the results. According to the American Heart Association, there are studies that show the average dog owner gets approximately 30 minutes more daily exercise than the average person who does not own a pet. Therefore, there is a clear and direct link between increased exercise and the reduced likelihood of suffering from cardiovascular problems and many other health conditions.
The companionship of a dog is also linked to reduced risks of many conditions, says Kramer. Studies have shown that dog petting reduces blood pressure. It is also known that dog ownership reduces stress, depression, and anxiety. As these are all conditions that increase the risk of cardiovascular problems and many other major illnesses, the link between reduced mental health problems and a decrease in physical illnesses is clear.
As more studies are finding links between improved health or prolonged life and dog ownership, dogs have become increasingly used as a form of therapy. There are even doctors who are now considering prescribing pet ownership to those they believe are at high risk of cardiovascular problems, as long as the patient is fit enough to care for the dog properly.