Having a Dog Is Good for Heart Health!

August 14, 2019
It might seem too good to be true, but having a dog can actually have lots of health benefits. One of those is a decreased risk of heart problems. But why exactly is that the case?

A heart attack is a major health risk for a lot of people. Dog lovers are fully aware of all the warmth and comfort their furry friends bring to their lives. But what they might not know is that having a dog is also good because it can actually reduce a person’s risk of heart disease.

Before you get too excited, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a cause-and-effect relationship between them. But the data still shows a link between having dogs and a reduced risk of heart problems.

What’s the evidence that a dog can be good for your heart health?

According to a recent study, you’re less likely to suffer from a heart problem if you have a dog. We’re talking about serious things like heart attacks and other potentially fatal issues. But how can the simple fact of having a dog reduce that risk? Some of the answers to that question might surprise you.

This study looked at health and death records for over three million people in Sweden between 40 and 80 years old, for over a decade. There were some fascinating findings.

Having a dog is good for heart health.

They compared those who live with other people, but not with pets, to those who also lived with dogs. They found that the latter had an 11% lower risk of early death, and were 15% less likely to die from a heart condition.

The findings were even more astonishing for people who live alone. Dog owners had a 33% lower risk of early death. They were also 36% less likely to die of a heart condition, and 11% less likely to suffer heart attacks. The benefits were even bigger for people with specific breeds of dogs like pointers and terriers.

Why having a dog is good for heart health

The most obvious explanation for why having a dog can be good for your health, and especially your heart health, is that you tend to be more active. 

You might not think about it, but walking your dog a few times a day means getting a good amount of daily exercise. Its been proven that people who walk their dogs are generally more physically active than people who don’t.

A woman running with her dog.

That would also explain why having an especially active breed of dog (like a pointer) would lead to greater health benefits. It could also be an answer to why single people (who have to do all the dog walking) would benefit the most.

Other potential explanations

1. A stronger immune system

You might not want to believe it, but your dog probably brings dirt and germs into your home. However, those actually end up strengthening your immune system and reducing inflammation in your body.

2. It changes your microbiome

The diversity of bacteria in your digestive tract doesn’t just change with your diet. It can also change based on whether you have a pet or not. In other words, having a dog could alter the kind of bacteria that lives in your gut. As a result, that could reduce inflammation in your body and reduce your risk of heart issues.

3. Social benefits

Dog owners, at least to some extent, have to leave their homes often to walk their dogs, and that creates lots of opportunities for social interaction. Dog owners also tend to form bonds with other dog owners, when their dogs play together. Past studies have found that social interaction also has a link to a reduced risk of heart disease and early death.

3. A better mood

Some people have suggested that the company and unconditional love you get from your dog can improve your mood and reduce stress, which would have a direct effect on your health. As people study this more, we’re going to start to get a better idea of how dogs can be good for our health in this sense.

Of course, this will also lead to studies and research on how cats and other pets might be good for our health. But for now, it’s encouraging enough to know that being a dog owner can be good for your health, and your life in general.

But, obviously, you shouldn’t adopt a dog just for the sake of reducing your risk of heart disease. More importantly, you should never bring a dog into your life if you aren’t willing, or able, to properly care for it.

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  • Böbel, T. S., Hackl, S. B., Langgartner, D., Jarczok, M. N., Rohleder, N., Rook, G. A., … & Reber, S. O. (2018). Less immune activation following social stress in rural vs. urban participants raised with regular or no animal contact, respectively. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(20), 5259-5264.
  • Batty, G. D., Zaninotto, P., Watt, R. G., & Bell, S. (2017). Associations of pet ownership with biomarkers of ageing: population based cohort study. Bmj, 359, j5558.
  • Sørensen, I. K., Bidstrup, P. E., Rod, N. H., Rühling, T., & Johansen, C. (2018). Is dog ownership associated with mortality? A nationwide registry study. European journal of public health, 28(6), 1169-1171