Dogs Reduce Heart Disease Risk

Dog lovers, rejoice! The American Heart Association says your pup is good for your health.


Puppies! photo via Shutterstock

You love your dog. But did you know he could be improving your health, too?

A new report from the American Heart Association (AHA), which was published in the journal Circulation, says having a pet, especially a dog, lowers owners’ risk of cardiovascular disease, likely because dog owners are usually more active than those without dogs. The AHA data also says dog owners are more likely to exercise and less likely to obese or overweight, tend to have lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and are less stressed. Add in previous studies about the benefits of using dogs as companion animals and their ability to extend the lifespans of their owners, and getting a dog is looking pretty good. A Harvard report about the research offers this explanation:

“People who have dogs live longer than people who have cats, and the assumption has been that dogs naturally cause their owners to be more active,” suggests Dr. Thomas Lee, Co-Editor in Chief of the Harvard Heart Letter. “The emotional benefits of having an affectionate creature are also one of the theories for why dog-lovers live longer.”

Sorry, cat lovers, but your furry friends don’t have the same benefits. The Harvard report says dog owners, in general, get more exercise than non-dog owners and cites a 1995 study that studied cardiovascular disease patients and found that those who owned dogs were four times more likely to have survived a year later than those without dogs. Cats may be good for a nice snuggle, but they just don’t measure up in terms of tangible health benefits.

So while the AHA points out in the study that the primary reason for adopting a pet should not be to improve the owner’s health, they conclude that, “Pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, is probably associated with decreased CVD [cardiovascular disease] risk” and “pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, may have some causal role in reducing CVD risk.” Hey, maybe getting your kids that puppy they’ve been begging you for isn’t such a bad idea.