Most people who have pets know that they have a pretty significant impact on your life. For me, there is always a feeling of anticipation as I walk towards the door to my house, knowing that the cats will come greet me when I get in. They will purr and climb my legs, and possibly scratch my furniture (which although that isn’t my favourite, they are cats and I recognize that). There is a lot of benefits to owning (with a cat, I question the use of that term) a pet but what are the physiological benefits?
In 2013, the American Heart Association, published a review of the literature between cardiovascular disease (CVD) and pet ownership. They examined 7 different areas.
- In terms of systemic hypertension (high blood pressure), multiple large scale studies have found that pet owners have lower blood pressure when other factors are controlled. However, there are also a few studies that have found that pets are not correlated (related to) rates of hypertension. One randomized study however, did find that after adopting a dog, owners did have significantly lower systolic blood pressure (this is the higher number which refers to the pressure in your arteries when your heart is contracting).
- Dog ownership has also been connected with lower total cholesterol by some studies, although this has not been consistent with sometimes male owners showing the improvement but not female or when BMI (body mass index) is controlled for.
- Non dog owners are less likely to use tobacco.
- Dogs, not surprisingly, have an impact on the amount of physical activity of their owners. One more reason to watch that YouTube video on how to teach your dog to walk on a treadmill. Sadly, some studies indicate that a significant proportion of dog owners do not walk their dogs regularly.
- Pet ownership is not connected to reduced obesity but dog walking is (another reason other than the health of your dog to take them for a walk).
- Having a dog or a cat is fairly consistently associated with lower resting heart rates and smaller spikes in heart rate and blood pressure and faster recovery in response to stress. This response is most significant when the pets are actually present. Some of these benefits start to appear after 6 months of adopting a new pet.
- Finally, once you have CVD, pet ownership does seem to decrease mortality rates but again, this result is not consistent across all studies.
So what did the authors conclude? Based on the evidence, pet ownership and especially dog ownership does seem to reduce CVD risk; however, this should not be the primary purpose of adopting a pet. In addition, we need better controlled studies to really figure out the details of this relationship.