Calling all pet moms! Good news: It seems that your obsession with your furry friend is completely valid – in more ways than one. It turns out that pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, is “probably associated with a decreased risk of heart disease” according to Glenn N. Levine, M.D., professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
Though there isn’t a definitive cause and effect relationship between the two, several studies have shown that there may be direct effects of dog ownership on health outcomes that are linked to a reduced likelihood of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and mortality such as the following:
Encourages social integration
It goes without saying that there is a strong likelihood you may have been stopped by people on the street who have admired or commented on your dog. Much research has proven the significance of social interaction in maintaining a healthy heart. Having a pet, particularly a dog, provides a way to connect with people with ease. “If I saw you walking down the street, I couldn’t comfortably start talking to you if I didn’t know you, but I could if you had a dog,” says Alan Beck, ScD, director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University. “It’s an acceptable interaction that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.”
Improves mental health
A study published in Nature’s Scientific Reports studied 3.4 million Swedish adults (ages 40-80 years) followed through nationwide register linkage over a 12-year period. Though the study couldn’t find evidence of a direct cause of dog ownership on CVD or mortality, psychosocial stress factors, such as social isolation, depression and loneliness were all reportedly lower in dog owners. Single dog owners were also found to have an 11 percent lower risk of heart attack and a 33 percent lower risk of death compared to single people who didn’t own dogs.
May lower blood pressure
Studies have shown that dog owners have lower blood pressure than non-owners, likely due to their calming effect. Dog owners also tend to get more exercise – whether through taking their dogs for walks or playing ball with them in the park.
Some research suggests that people with dogs experience less cardiovascular reactivity during times of stress. To put it simply, their heart rate and blood pressure increase less and normalize more quickly, reducing the effects of stress on the body. The power of touch also plays an important role in this effect: The simple act of petting your companion can lower blood pressure, help your body release a relaxation hormone and cut down on levels of a stress hormone.
So if you’re on the fence about owning a dog, the potential heart benefits are a nice bonus–-just be sure they’re not your primary reason for getting one. Remember to also consider your time, resources and physical ability to care for one.