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Dog Owners Get Survival Benefit

A Swedish study demonstrates that dog owners are less likely to die soon after a heart attack or a stroke. A meta-analysis reinforces that conclusion.

We are dog lovers, along with 85 million other American families. If your household includes a canine member, you may be getting an unexpected survival benefit. A study and a meta-analysis published in Circulation offer evidence that dog owners are less likely to die soon after a heart attack or stroke.

Studying Dog Owners:

The study was conducted in Sweden between 2001 and 2012 and included more than 300,000 individuals who had experienced a stroke or a heart attack (Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, Oct. 8, 2019). Dog owners were 33 percent less likely to die during the follow-up period after a heart attack, especially if they were not living with other people. Those who lived alone except for a dog were 27 percent less likely to die during the follow-up after a stroke. People who lived alone without a canine companion were at the highest risk for dying during this time.

Other Studies of People with Dogs:

The meta-analysis published in the same issue of the journal evaluated the results of ten studies including 3.8 million participants. These studies looked at mortality from any cause. Overall, dog owners were 24 percent less likely to die during the study period than people deprived of canine companionship. In this analysis, dog ownership reduced the chance of death from cardiovascular causes by 31 percent.

An accompanying editorial warns that people should not adopt dogs just to further their own health. Instead, he quotes the late poet Mary Oliver that there is no sweeter arrangement. (“Little Dog’s Rhapsody in the Night”)

He concludes,

“The health benefits of dog ownership are a welcome and possibly substantial bonus.”

Dog Owners Get More Exercise:

Perhaps the explanation for the survival benefit is additional exercise from walking the dog. Several years ago, a study concluded that walking a dog is good for your heart. According to a study in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, people who own dogs are one-third more likely to get the recommended minimum of exercise each week. About 40 percent of the Michigan residents surveyed own a dog, and two-thirds of those walk the dog regularly, for at least 10 minutes at a time. Overall, dog owners were 69 percent more likely to get physical activity than people without dogs.

One author, a veterinarian, points out that regular exercise is important for dogs to avoid obesity and health problems just as it is for humans. Older people and those with young dogs got the most exercise from walking the dog.

Keeping Your Dog Healthy:

Flu season for humans is finished for this year, but veterinarians are concerned about canine influenza. Cases are showing up in a number of states. Dogs can spread the virus between each other with close contact. In areas where dog flu is common, owners are being advised to restrict visits to dog parks and day care centers to reduce the chances for transmission. There are vaccines for canine influenza. If a dog starts to cough, run a fever or lose its appetite, owners should check in with the veterinarian. There is no indication that canine influenza can be transmitted to humans.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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