Ready. Set. Let’s Go! Long Live Dogs

We all know that owning a dog has multiple health benefits, but two new studies suggest that dog ownership can actually help you live longer after a heart attack or stroke.  The studies mentioned above published in the journal “Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.”  People who own dogs are generally more active and have stronger social support, than those who don’t.  These two factors could improve the recovery after a major cardiovascular crisis.  As a matter of fact, owning a dog is associated with a 24% reduced risk of death among the public in general.  The reduction goes up to a 33% lower risk of death in people who’ve had heart attacks.  The benefit seemed to be higher for survivors of heart attacks and stroke who lived alone, that is, without another human.  The reason for this is that loneliness and isolation are risk factors for premature death, as they can lead to depression.  Dogs help alleviate the sense of loneliness and isolation, which is one reason why some hospitals use therapy dogs for cardiac patients.  Some cardiologists actually prescribe a dog for their patients because they believe in the strong benefits associated with dog ownership. 

Dogs also help those living alone get more exercise because they are solely responsible for walking the dog.  Blood pressure (BP), another risk factor for stroke and heart patients, is also kept in check, as the simple act of petting a dog reduces blood pressure.  Furthermore, petting a dog reduces BP just as much as medication does.  It is believed that even younger people can benefit from having a dog.  In cardiovascular health, the younger we implement healthy behaviors, the better. 

Another possible explanation of why dog ownership has such a positive effect on people could be their effect on their owners’ microbiome.  According to the Oxford dictionary, microbiomes are “the microorganisms in a particular environment (including the body or a part of the body)”.  The University of Washington defines them as, “the genetic material of all microbes – bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses – that live on and inside the human body.  The number of genes in all the microbes in one person’s microbiome is 200 times the number of genes in the human genome.”  Are you confused yet?  Well, I was, but I think what it boils down to is that dogs are the canine equivalent of yogurt.  Many health conditions are linked to our microbiome.  Some you would never even think are, such as anxiety or obesity.  Dogs’ positive effect on microbiomes is so tangible that numerous studies have suggested that children that grow up with dogs have fewer allergies and are less likely to have asthma.  And it is believed that these immune-boosting benefits extend to adults, also.

If you are worried that dog ownership is a lot of work and you are not yet ready to make that type of commitment, you can get a lower-maintenance pet instead, because studies have suggested that they can also provide health benefits.   Even caring for crickets has been shown to make a person healthier.  Keep in mind, though, that the health benefits of dog ownership far outweigh those provided by your pet goldfish.