Own a Pet, Live Longer
If you don’t currently own a pet, our family practice doctors in Delray Beach suggest you run, don’t walk, to the nearest shelter and rescue one.
Why? Because various studies dating back decades show that being a pet parent can not only help keep you healthier but living longer, as well.
Studies of pet ownership—primarily dogs—as far back as the 1950s have consistently found a correlation between better overall health and having a pet to care for.
- One study done in 1980, for example, found that after discharge from a coronary care unit, patients who went home to a pet lived longer on average than those who didn’t.
- Another recruited participants with high blood pressure and high-stress jobs. Half committed to adopting a cat or dog. At the end of six months, those subjects were found to have significantly lower blood pressure.
- Researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden tracked more than 3.4 million people with no history of cardiovascular disease (CVD) for 12 years. Those who reported owning a dog not only had a lower risk of death from CVD, but a lower risk of death from all causes.
- Cat owners shouldn’t despair: One 20-year study published in 2009 found that non-cat owners were 40 percent more likely to die of a heart attack and 30 percent more likely to die of other CVDs (including stroke) than those who enjoy the company of cats.
- An Australian study found that pet owners generally have lower blood pressure, triglycerides, and cholesterol levels than non-pet owners.
The most recent study, published in October in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association (AHA), performed a meta-analysis of nearly 70 years of research from around the world.
“Dog ownership was associated with a 24 percent reduction in all-cause mortality.”
Said Dr. Caroline Kramer, an endocrinologist at Mount Sinai hospital and the lead researcher on the study.
Those who had already experienced a heart attack or stroke saw an even bigger benefit, she added.
“For those people, having a dog was even more beneficial. They had a 31 percent reduced risk of dying from CVD.”
While pet ownership seems to show the most benefit for older adults who live alone, the findings hold true for those living in multi-person households as well.
And the benefits seem connected to the ownership of any living creature. Rabbits, horses, fish, guinea pigs, even crickets have been shown to improve the mental and physical health of their caregivers.
Yes, crickets. An eight-week study published in 2016 by the National Institutes for Health (NIH) found that elderly subjects who were given five caged crickets to care for showed a positive effect on depression and cognitive function compared with subjects in a control group.
“We know that loneliness and social isolation are strong risk factors for premature death and our hypothesis was that the company of a pet can alleviate that,” according to Tove Fall, the study’s author and associate professor of epidemiology at Uppsala University in Sweden.
“Single owners have to do all the dog walks and we know that physical activity is important in rehabilitation after a myocardial infarction or stroke,” she added.
It could be that the interaction with another living being provides a connection with nature, which has been shown in numerous studies to boost moods, reduce stress, and improve immune function.
If you don’t currently have a pet, you should consider getting one, with some caveats:
- Does your current living situation allow for the addition of a pet? Will other household members agree?
- Does your physical health allow you to walk them daily or clean litter boxes?
- Since dogs live 10-15 years on average, and some cats can live into their 20s, will someone be available to take over their care should they outlive you?
- Are you prepared for the financial costs associated with owning a pet, which can run into the thousands?
If you can’t have a pet
You aren’t doomed to an early death just because you can’t own an animal. If your child is allergic, or your landlord or lifestyle won’t allow it, you can still reap many of the benefits by volunteering at your local shelter, offering to walk neighbors’ dogs, or even just being around animals owned by friends or family members. An Indiana University study found that just watching online cat videos increased energy and healthy, positive emotions, and decreased negative feelings.
One study found that the action of petting a dog can reduce blood pressure as much as medication. This doesn’t mean owning an animal will allow you to skip the medications we’ve prescribed. It does mean it can be one more tool in your health arsenal.
If you have questions about this topic, of course, we’re happy to answer them.