Dogs can perform many tricks for their owners, but the best one might be extending their life.
Scientists found that dog owners were 24 per cent less likely to die over the next decade than non-dog owners, after analysing data from more than three million people.
A team of researchers concluded that dogs offered “significant” benefits, especially to people living alone or recovering from heart disease.
Dog owners tend to have lower blood pressure, healthier cholesterol levels and a milder stress response than those with canine-free homes, according to the study published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.
To investigate, a team at Mt Sinai hospital consulted medical literature dating back to 1950 and found 10 studies of dog ownership and survival using the data of 3.8 million people.
One of the study’s lead authors, Dr Caroline Kramer, said increased physical activity played a key role in the cardiovascular benefits of dog ownership.
In another study in the same issue of the journal, Dr Tove Fall of Uppsala University in Sweden looked researched the impact of pet ownership on stroke and heart attack survivors.
She and her team looked at data from more than 300,000 patients alongside data from the national dog register.
The heart attack patients who lived alone but owned a dog had a 33 per cent lower risk of suffering another heart attack than those without a pet, the researchers found.
For stroke patients living alone with a dog, the repeat stroke risk was 27 per cent lower.
“If this was a drug, it would make a pharma company very rich,” Dr Fall said, noting that the work was inspired by her time as a vet.
“I could see how much people love dogs, and how much they meant to them in hard times. I could also see how they encouraged them into a lot of physical activity,” she said.
However, Dr Fall was quick to explain that the benefits were not caused by dogs alone.
She suggested the kind of older people to get a dog may already be fitter or have a more positive outlook on life.
“When you’re older it’s also important to have a motivation to hang on in life,” she said.
“I know all the elderly people nearby who have dogs, and wouldn’t know them otherwise. It’s a natural way to meet; it enriches elderly lives,” the proud dog owner said.
Dr Dhruv Kazi of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston offered recommendations to health providers in light of the study.
“Given the magnitude of the potential benefit – and likely little or no harm – these findings should encourage clinicians to discuss pet adoption with their patients, particularly those with preexisting cardiovascular disease and those living by themselves,” he told Reuters.
“We’ve known this forever, that pets make our lives better, but to know that the sum of it translates to better cardiovascular health is very exciting for those of us who like dogs and work in cardiology.
“I’ve wanted a dog for 40 years, and the data finally convinced me.”