19. Does Caring for a Pet Lower the Risk of a Heart Attack?
Another study looked at patients who had just suffered a heart attack. The study showed that those who did own a pet, whether it was a dog or a cat, had a higher rate of heart rate variability compared to non-owners. These findings have been associated with decreased cardiac death among patients.
It is worth making a note here about pet ownership. Although most of the studies discussed so far included only cats and dogs, research has shown that the same benefits apply to those who own other pets, including goats, snakes, fish, and chimpanzees. Virtual pets also seem to have some protective effect.
Cardiovascular disease encompasses many issues regarding the heart. It refers to conditions that narrow or block blood vessels that can then lead to a heart attack, chest pain, or stroke. It seems that pets may offer protective factors for those who suffer from CVD. It was shown in a study performed by the Cardiac Arrhythmia Suppression Trial that survival after a cardiovascular event was highly associated with owning a pet. Dog ownership correctly was shown to decrease mortality, with mortality for non-owners being four times more likely after an incident involving the heart. Sadly, cat owners did not receive the same benefits.
Another study looked at patients a year after suffering from either a heart attack or chest pain. It showed that pet owners survived more often than those who did not own a pet. The finding was independent of the patient’s age and severity of the cardiovascular disease. It seems that a lack of pet ownership can be predictive of mortality for those who suffer heart issues.
This professor at the Tulane University School of Medicine reported some interesting facts after these findings were announced. He declared that women are about ten times more likely than men to die from a heart attack or a stroke than they are from breast cancer. It would seem, then, that women have more to benefit from owning a dog than men do. The furry friends not only help with the physical side of things; they also help alleviate mental health issues as well. Dogs assist owners with managing stress, increasing activity, and decreasing isolation and loneliness.
He also noted that walking a dog 20 to 30 minutes a day will help individuals meet the weekly recommended activity level of 150 minutes of moderate exercise. Sadly, Ferdinand was not included in this latest study. He did warn against blindly following the results produced by these recent studies. He noted that dogs alone could not overcome the risk factors associated with the heart, such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and smoking. He says the best combination for helping those with cardiovascular problems is to have an active dog and to work against cardiovascular risk factors actively.
A cardiologist from Israel Deaconess Medical Center also had a few words to say about the findings just published. He believes that mental health benefits should not be overlooked: he reiterates that dogs alleviate anxiety and loneliness while increasing self-esteem and overall mood. He even mentions a finding unearthed by the 2018 General Social Survey, which determined that dog owners were significantly happier than cat owners.
Over and over again we have seen how having a dog increases physical activity–this is just common sense. But Kazi brings up other good points. Dog owners spend significantly more time outdoors than those who do not have a dog; spending time outside for whatever reason has been found to benefit your overall health. He notes that even merely petting a dog can decrease a person’s blood pressure; however, the benefits seem only to come about if the dog is familiar to you.
The current literature does not entirely convince Kazi. He believes that the confounding factors of the individuals should have been accounted for. Kazi stated that dog owners tend to be younger, have more money, have more education, and are typically married. All of these factors tend to improve cardiovascular outcomes.
The results could have occurred since healthier people are more likely to adopt or purchase a pup compared to more impoverished and less fit individuals. Kazi also brings up the idea of reverse causation: the concept that healthier people are more likely to adopt a pet compared to someone who is always ill. Despite his reservations about the studies, he does believe that there is some truth to the connection between dog ownership and survival.
These studies involve at least two groups of participants: in this case, those who are forced to adopt a dog and those that are not. One study in this category placed cardiac patients in either a pet adoption group or a non-owner group; the group that adopted a dog or a cat showed a decrease in blood pressure response due to a stressful event.
Another small study taken place in Korea randomly assigned nursing home residents to pet crickets and asked them to take care of the insect for a minimum of eight weeks. After this time, the insect caring group exhibited significant improvements in depression and cognitive ability compared to the group that did not care for crickets.
While the results from the Canadian and Swedish studies seem promising, we have to consider the boundaries of the studies used to produce such results. In particular, these results came about from observational studies, which is simply observing what is already naturally occurring. This idea means that these studies alone cannot be used to determine that dog ownership ensures survival.
It may be possible that other factors contributed to the health of the individuals under review. While these studies did account for some confounding factors, it was not possible to predict and control for all of them.
26. An Important Mayo Clinic Study About Dog Ownership
This Mayo Clinic study looked at a total of 1800 individuals to determine what benefits dogs have for patients with cardiovascular problems. It found that those who owned a dog were more likely to engage in healthier lifestyle choices, such as regular exercise and eating healthy.
These individuals also had more favorable blood sugar levels compared to those who did not own a canine. The two may or may not be related, but the results of this particular test did reveal that owning a dog can help with many health ailments including blood sugar levels.
Another study was used to examine the mental health benefits of owning a dog. It looked specifically at older individuals, at a total of 2,000 adults between the ages of 50 and 80. More than half of participants owned pets; of those who owned pets, around 80% reported that their companions helped reduce their stress level. Pet owners who claimed to live alone and to be in poor health benefited as well: 70% of them stated that their animals helped them cope with both mental and physical symptoms.
Be warned though: pets, dogs especially, are hard work, and their care should not be taken lightly. Elderly individuals should only consider a dog if they are physically capable of keeping up with the demands of the pet.