Being a pet parent may cut risk of heart disease

New information released this week proves what the 70 million dog owners and 74 million cat owners in the United States already know: Owning a pet is good for the heart.

The AHA study claimed a link between owning a pet and lower blood pressure and decreased hypertension.

In a scientific review conducted by the American Heart Association (AHA), one of the most trusted authorities on heart health, it was discovered that owning a pet could have cardiovascular benefits, ultimately lowering a person’s risk of heart disease.

“There is a modest amount of data and reason to state that pet ownership may have some causal role in decreasing cardiovascular risk,” Baylor College of Medicine professor and committee chairman Dr. Glenn Levine reveals in a statement.

Dr. Levine explains there have been many studies exploring the connection between pets and health over the past decade, enough to warrant a thorough consideration of the relationship between improved heart health and dog or cat ownership.

Of the dozens of studies evaluated as part of the AHA committee’s scientific review, many seemed to suggest a link between owning a pet, lower blood pressure and a decreased incidence of hypertension. Others stressed a possible relation between pet ownership and lower levels of obesity.

“We didn’t want to make this too strong of a statement. But there are plausible psychological, sociological, and physiological reasons to believe that pet ownership might actually have a causal role in decreasing cardiovascular risk,” Dr. Levine tells The New York Times.

One of the most telling studies Dr. Levine and his committee assessed was a randomized controlled trial in which a group of 30 participants were evaluated before and after adopting a dog. The results showed that after completing the adoption, the participants’ blood pressure dropped.

Another study looked at a group of 48 over-stressed stockbrokers with hypertension. After the stockbrokers were placed on medication, researchers divided them into two groups. The first group was told to simply continue their medication, but the second group was given an additional task — to go out and adopt a dog or a cat. Six months later, researchers evaluated the stress levels of the stockbrokers in each group and discovered that the group who added pets to their lives appeared significantly calmer.

That there could be a link between lower stress levels and pet ownership is compelling, Dr. Levine says, even if the connection is only correlational.

“Several studies showed that dogs decreased the body’s reaction to stress, with a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure and adrenaline-like hormone release when a pet is present as opposed to when a pet is not present,” Dr. Levine explains.

The best motive for adding a new dog or cat to your family should always stem from the desire to provide the animal with a great home.

“The primary reason to adopt, rescue, or purchase a pet should be to give that pet a loving home, and to enjoy the relationship one has with a pet,” says Dr. Levine.

For more information on the conclusions of the AMA scientific review, the committee’s statement has been published in its entirety in the current issue of the scientific journal, Circulation.

Sources: Circulation, The New York Times