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Oct 21, 2019

Dog Owners Recover Better After Heart Events, Study Shows

The social support and physical activity that come with dog ownership can lead to better health outcomes after heart attack or stroke.

Dog ownership boosts survival after heart attack and stroke, based on a recent analysis of heart patients in a national Swedish registry. Findings were published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes and highlight the benefits of social support and physical activity associated with dog ownership, especially after heart events.

Using data from the Swedish National Patient Register, this study looked at the impact of dog ownership on survival after heart events. It included 321,430 adults treated for heart attack or stroke between 2001 and 2012, comparing survival rates among those who did and didn’t own dogs.

Participants were followed for a maximum of 12 years, and about 5 percent were dog owners based on national dog registries.

After adjusting for factors like age, gender and overall health, researchers found that having a dog had the largest protective effect in adults that lived alone, helping reduce risk of a second heart event. Among adults that lived alone, having a dog was associated with 33% lower risk of death in heart attack survivors and 27% lower risk of death in stroke survivors when compared with those who did not own dogs. Among adults living with their family, dog ownership was associated with 12–15% lower risk of death in heart attack and stroke survivors.

Dog owners also had 7% lower risk for a second heart attack than their counterparts.

According to authors, this is one of the largest studies of its kind to explore the link between dog ownership and survival after heart events. Many studies suggest that people who own dogs tend to have better health and outcomes than individuals without pets. However, few studies have been as large-scale and have included as long of a follow-up period as the recent analysis.

While the study can’t prove that having a dog directly lowers risk for heart events and death, it adds to the number of studies suggesting that dog ownership has a protective effect on health. As authors note, dogs provide a form of social support, which is important for mental health and may even protect against depression. The exercise associated with dog ownership—taking morning and evening walks—may also help lower blood pressure and promote better health.

Of course, having a dog isn’t for everyone. However, individuals with a history of heart attack and stroke face significantly greater risk for heart events and other complications. Taking steps to address both mental and physical health after a heart event is critical to boosting survival and quality of life.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Can mental health affect heart health?
  • Yes. Although there’s still much to learn, research suggests there is a close connection between mental and cardiovascular health. Studies have shown that patients with a mental illness, like depression, are at increased risk for heart disease. It’s also possible that having heart disease increases risk for depression and can worsen outcomes. It’s important to discuss all aspects of health, including mental health, with your doctor.
  • How can I help prevent stroke?

  • There are many things adults can do to help prevent a stroke. First, maintain a healthy blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, visit your physician to properly treat this condition. Maintaining a healthy diet, weight, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol intake, and quitting smoking (if you are a smoker) can also help significantly lower risk for stroke.

Infographic: Active Living

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Infographic: Stroke