The impact of animal companions on cardiovascular health was first recognised in the early 1980s, and it is the area of research which gained the attention of the medical community that “pets are good for you”. It also appears that the impacts are not just about the increased exercise associated with dog ownership, cat owners also record better heart health than those who did not own a cat.
- In a 20-year study of nearly 4,500 people undertaken in the United States, of people who had never owned a pet cat were found to be 40% more likely to die of a heart attack than those who owned a cat. They were also 30% more likely to die of any cardiovascular disease; including stroke, heart failure and chronic heart disease. The results held true even after the researchers took into account other risk factors for heart disease and stroke including age, gender, race, blood pressure, and smoking.1
- Stroking a pet has been proven as an antidote to stress; with researchers finding that people talking to and petting a dog have lower blood pressure than when they interact with another person.2
- American psychiatrist Aaron Katcher examined the effect of social support on the survival of people one year after suffering a heart attack, and found to his surprise that pets made a significant difference. Analysis of variables, including severity of initial disease, showed pet ownership contributed an additional 4% to the patient's chance of survival.3 The results have since been replicated in a larger study of 369 subjects.4
- Allen et al reported in the journal Hypertension, that pet ownership reduced blood pressure responses to mental stress.5 In the study, researchers evaluated the effects of pet ownership on blood pressure responses to mental stress before and during ACE inhibitor therapy (medication for blood pressure). Blood pressure medication lowered resting blood pressure, but responses to mental stress were significantly lower among pet owners relative to those who only received medication. The conclusion was that ACE inhibitor therapy alone lowers resting blood pressure, whereas increased social support through pet ownership lowers blood pressure response to mental stress – providing a buffering effect against stress.
- Anderson et al’s study of 5,741 participants attending a free screening clinic at the Baker Medical Research Institute in Melbourne found that pet owners had lower levels of risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including lower systolic blood pressure and plasma triglycerides, and in men, lower cholesterol than non pet owners.6 These results held true even after controlling for cigarette smoking, diet, body mass index or socioeconomic profile.
- Qureshi, AI, Zeeshan MM, Vazquez, G, Fareed, M, Suri, K, 2009, ‘Cat ownership and the Risk of Fatal Cardiovascular Diseases: Results from the Second National Health and Nutrition Examination Study Mortality Follow-up Study’, Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology, vol. 2, no.1, pp.132-135.
- Vormbrock, JK, & Grossberg, JM, 1988, ’Cardiovascular effects of human-pet dog interactions’, Journal of Behavioral Medicine, vol. 11, no. 5, pp. 509-517.
- Friedmann, E, Katcher, AH, Lynch, JJ, & Thomas, SA, 1980, ‘Animal companions and one year survival of patients after discharge from a coronary care unit’, Public Health Reports, vol. 95, pp. 307 - 312.
- Friedmann, E, 1995, ‘Pet Ownership, Social Support and One Year Survival after Acute Myocardial Infarction in the Cardiac Arrhythmia Suppression Trial (CAST)’, American Journal of Cardiology, vol. 76, no. 17, pp. 1213 – 1217.
- Allen, K, Shykoff, BE, & Izzo, Jr.JL, 2001, ‘Pet ownership, but not ace inhibitor therapy, blunts home blood pressure responses to mental stress’, Hypertension, vol. 38, pp. 815-20.
- Anderson WP, Reid, CM, & Jennings, G, 1992,’Pet ownership and risk factors for cardiovascular disease’, The Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 157, no. 5, pp. 298-301.