Man’s Best Friend Just Got Better

Heart disease risk may be lowered by owning a pet

(RxWiki News) Want to improve your heart health? Let it go to the dogs. Owning a pet, particularly a dog, could reduce your risk of heart disease.

Many researchers have found that stress and anxiety can trigger cardiac events, such as heart attack. Owning a pet, however, may be a tension reliever and could help the heart.

The American Heart Association (AHA) has just reaffirmed that pet ownership—especially of a dog—may be good for cardiovascular health.

"Walk the dog to improve heart health."

Glenn Levine, MD, professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, chaired an AHA committee that wrote the statement about the benefits of pet ownership after reviewing previous studies on the influence of pets.

“Pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, is probably associated with a decreased risk of heart disease,” said Dr. Levine.

Among pet owners, those who had dogs appeared to get the most health benefits because they participated in more physical activity with their canines.

In a study of more than 5,200 adults, dog owners engaged in more walking and physical activity than non-dog owners, and were 54 percent more likely to get the recommended level of physical activity.

The authors also highlighted that pets in general can have a positive effect on the body’s reaction to stress, and owning animals may be associated with lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as a lower incidence of obesity.

Sarah Samaan, MD, cardiologist and physician partner at the Baylor Heart Hospital in Plano, Texas, told dailyRX News, “Heart patients with pets, especially dogs, are less likely to die in the years following a heart attack. They tend to have lower blood pressure and report better overall quality of life. Having the responsibility of caring for a pet helps to lift people out of mild depression and loneliness, both of which can be harmful to heart health. It is also a great motivation to exercise since most dogs love a daily walk.”

While Dr. Levine found that there probably is an association between pet ownership and decreased cardiovascular risk, he said that it’s not certain whether the act of adopting or acquiring a pet could lead to a reduction in cardiovascular risk in those with pre-existing disease.

“It may be simply that healthier people are the ones that have pets, not that having a pet actually leads to or causes reduction in cardiovascular risk,” he said.

He added that more research is needed to definitively answer the question, and that people shouldn’t adopt, rescue or buy a pet solely to reduce cardiovascular risk.

The statement was published online in May in the American Health Association’s journal Circulation.

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Review Date: 
May 7, 2013