If you have a dog and tell them it’s National Dog Day, I suspect they will reply: “I thought everyday was dog day! Now where’s my treat?” As they woof that down, take a moment to reflect on all that your dog brings to you. Perhaps it is you, dear owner, who is getting the treat — the gift of good health.
A 2019 analysis of nearly 4 million people in the United States, Canada, Scandinavia, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom found dog ownership was associated with a 24% reduction in dying early from any cause. If the person had already suffered a heart attack or stroke, having a dog was even more beneficial; they were 31% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease. The study has been criticized for not controlling for other diseases, social economic status and other factors that might confound the results.
Still, another large study published around the same time found people who owned dogs had better health outcomes after suffering a major cardiovascular event such as heart attack or stroke. The benefit was highest for dog owners who lived alone. Heart attack survivors living alone who owned dogs had a 33% lower risk of death compared to survivors who did not own a dog. Stroke survivors living alone with a dog had a 27% reduced risk of death. The American Heart Association lists a reduction in diabetes to the list of health benefits of dog ownership. “People who walk their dogs regularly face one-third the risk of diabetes of those who don’t own a dog,” the AHA said.
In addition, owning a dog (or other pet) may provide important social and emotional support and is a “powerful predictor of behavior changes that can lead to weight loss,” the AHA said. Of course these cardio benefits are just for dogs — not cats, horses, gerbils and the like. Many suggest its the potential exposure to exercise that explains the benefit: The AHA points to studies that found pet owners who walk their dogs got up to 30 minutes more exercise a day than non-dog-walkers. But in a previous interview with CNN, Dr. Martha Gulati, who is the editor-in-chief of CardioSmart.org, the American College of Cardiology’s patient education platform, said the jury was still out on why.