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May 15, 2013

Pets May Boost Heart Health

After a comprehensive review of existing research, experts acknowledge an association between pet ownership and reduced cardiovascular risk.

Ask any pet owner and they’ll tell you how much animals can add to our lives. Aside from the responsibility and occasional headache, pets offer companionship, comfort and, of course, unconditional love. And according to a statement from the American Heart Association (AHA) released earlier this month, owning a pet may also help protect your heart health.

Throughout the years, many studies have investigated the relationship between pet ownership and heart health. Obesity and physical inactivity are America’s biggest health challenges, and it only seems logical that people who own pets might be healthier than non-pet owners. If you own a pet, especially a dog, you need to take it out a few times a day, run or walk with it, and clean up after it in the house. Plus, pets can offer a sense of emotional comfort that can help reduce stress levels. As such, experts came together to review existing research on the topic and come to a decision regarding pet ownership. Does owning a pet really promote heart health? And should people get a pet solely to reduce risk for heart disease?

Experts reviewed a total of 36 research studies, which covered a number of topics in relation to pet ownership including blood pressure, physical activity, obesity, and heart health in people with and without existing heart disease. Based on the evidence, they concluded that pet ownership is probably associated with decreased risk for heart disease, but that they wouldn’t advise getting a pet for the primary purpose of reducing cardiovascular risk. Although research shows that pet ownership is associated with better health, it’s unclear whether or not it’s a causal relationship. In other words, it’s hard to tell whether people who are likely to own pets are healthier on average or whether the act of having a pet actually makes people healthier.

Thus, experts conclude the AHA’s Scientific Statement by encouraging further research to better understand the impact of pet ownership on heart health. If owning a pet directly leads to a reduction in heart disease risk, pet ownership could be a novel approach to improving heart health.  But more evidence is needed before such recommendations can be addressed.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Does owning a pet improve heart health?
  • Many studies suggest that pet ownership promotes heart health, like by increasing physical activity, lowering blood pressure, and reducing risk for heart disease. However, more research is needed to better understand the association between pet ownership and cardiovascular risk.
  • How can pets promote better health?
  • Pet ownership has been shown to reduce stress levels and promote physical activity among owners, which helps improve heart health. However, more research is needed to better understand whether owning a pet, especially a dog, directly reduces risk for heart disease.

Featured Video

Research has shown that on average, dog owners enjoy longer lifespans and require fewer trips to the doctor.

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