On May 19, in the journal Circulation, the American Heart Association (AHA) published the results of their large “meta-study” regarding dog and cat ownership and heart health, and they gave a thumbs up to the concept that owning one of these pets, particularly a dog, appears to lead to a healthier cardiovascular system.
In this “meta-study”, the AHA carefully scrutinized dozens of previous research studies to come to their overall conclusion. One study they examined involved 48 stressed-out, hypertensive stockbrokers.
In this study, the stockbrokers were first placed on anti-hypertensive medication, then randomly divided into two groups. Initially none of them owned pets, but for the study, half the stockbrokers adopted a cat or dog and the other half did not. At six months, the two groups were compared.
The 24 stockbrokers who had adopted a pet each had formed a good bond with their pets, and they reported being calmer when encountering stressful events at work. And when studied physiologically, the pet owners had lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels at six months, along with lower heart rates and lower levels of stress hormones.
Some of the studies the AHA examined were “mortality risk” studies, and among people who already had significant heart disease, the risk of dying during a specific number of years, from any cause, was up to four times less if a person owned a dog.
Besides lower mortality risk, dog and cat owners seem to enjoy the following benefits to cardiovascular health:
- Better cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- Improved survival if they suffer a heart attack
- Lower blood pressure
- Diminished physiological responses to stress
- Increased physical activity
Part of the benefit of pet ownership is that it almost forces people to get out of the homes more, especially to walk a dog. Some of the benefit seems to be just having a companion (“man’s best friend”) around at home, which overall should be de-stressing.
The AHA concluded that “pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, may be reasonable for reduction in cardiovascular disease risk”. And the benefit seems to be especially good for people who already have high blood pressure or heart disease.
If you want to buy a pet, do some research yourself to find a pet that’s appropriate for your family situation, where you live, and how much you are at home. Don’t buy a pet that is difficult to care for in your home. Apartment dwellers are usually better with smaller pets, and if no one is home most of the day, a cat might be a better choice. Research the breeder too…yes, ask for names of people they have sold pets to in the past, and call them to see if the pet stayed healthy over a few years.
Different breeds have different personalities, and you don’t your overall level of stress to increase with a pet, so you might look for one of the calmer breeds, and one that is easier to housebreak. Finally, strongly consider neutering your pet, which should simplify many potential issues. Further, neutering often leads to a calmer animal, and neutered pets also tend to live longer (up to two years more).
See also in ProcuraMed:
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