Health & Wellness

A Dog Can Keep You Healthier

New study results suggest that owning a dog can lengthen your life

Photo: iStock/monkeybusinessimages.


Dog owners are healthier, according to two studies published by the American Heart Association. The study results found that the companionship of a dog is associated with a longer lifespan and an improved capacity to bounce back after a heart attack or stroke.

“These two studies provide good, quality data indicating dog ownership is associated with reduced cardiac and all-cause mortality,” Glenn Levine, the chair of the writing group of the American Heart Association, said in a statement.

In the first study, researchers found that dog ownership is associated with a 33% lower incidence of an early death for heart attack survivors and a 27% lower incidence among stroke survivors. Those with dogs also tend to live longer, the second study found, with a 24% lower risk for all-cause mortality and a 31% lower risk for death by heart attack and stroke.

“While these non-randomized studies cannot prove that adopting or owning a dog directly leads to reduced mortality, these robust findings are certainly at least suggestive of this,” Levine said.

Another caveat is that the findings are based on an analysis of the Swedish National Patient Register, and therefore the same findings may not be reproducible in another country’s population.

Dog owners tend to be healthier because taking care of their dogs pushes them out of the house and forces them to walk more. Social isolation and lack of physical activity are known risk factors for patients recovering from heart attacks or strokes. Previous studies have also found that having a dog tends to lower your blood pressure.

So if you struggle to find the motivation to get out and exercise, getting a dog might give you that extra push to adopt healthier habits.

“Keeping a dog is a good motivation for physical activity, which is an important factor in rehabilitation and mental health,” Tove Fall, a professor at Uppsala University in Sweden, said in a statement.

It’s also possible that those who already live a healthy lifestyle are more likely to own dogs, notes Dr. Caroline Kramer, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto. “As a dog owner myself, I can say that adopting Romeo [a miniature Schnauzer] has increased my steps and physical activity each day, and he has filled my daily routine with joy and unconditional love.”