TORONTO – Cats can have nine lives, but owning a dog can extend yours, says a Toronto researcher.
A study released on Tuesday suggests that dog owners live longer than their less canine counterparts, facing an almost a third lower risk of dying from heart disease.
Caroline Kramer, Endocrinologist at Mount Sinai Hospital, led the systematic review published by an American Heart Association newspaper.
The researchers analyzed data from more than 3.8 million people drawn from 10 studies published between 1950 and 2019.
They found that dog ownership was associated with a 24% reduction in overall death risk, and the risk of death from cardiovascular problems fell by 31%. This difference was even more pronounced among dog owners who survived a heart attack, whose risk of death was 65% lower than non-owners.
Kramer says the results are promising, but more research is needed to prove there are health benefits to having a dog.
"It's an important document to suggest (a link), but not to provide a definitive answer," she said. "Maybe it's not the dog itself, it's that people already have a healthier lifestyle before."
The clinical scientist noted that his team's analysis does not explain variables that may explain the difference in health outcomes between dog owners and the rest of the population.
Dog owners may have higher incomes or furry companions fit into their already active lifestyles, she said.
Although it is difficult to separate cause and effect without a randomized clinical trial, Kramer said there is research to indicate that man's best friend may be good for his health.
In two articles, participants reported that their physical activity increased after adopting a dog. Another suggested that owning a dog helped older English adults get fit during bad weather.
Kramer also cited a study that found that being near a cat or dog can reduce blood pressure as much as some medications, suggesting that proximity to pets can have an immediate impact on stress levels.
She said there is evidence that dog ownership can have other emotional health benefits, especially among older people living alone.
Kramer has also personally experienced the positive side effects of dog ownership in the form of her miniature schnauzer, Romeo, whom she credits for increasing her physical activity by 10,000 steps a day.
But she warned that people should consider what is best for themselves and the dog before rushing to the foster care center in the name of improving heart health.
"If the joy of having a dog doesn't exist, maybe the effect isn't the same," Kramer said. "If they consider all of this and have the right lifestyle for that, I would say it might be something that could change their lives."