Good news, dog lovers: Having a canine companion at your side could actually help you live longer — especially if you’re a stroke or heart attack survivor who lives alone.
The research, published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, a journal of the American Heart Association, was based on one study and a separate meta-analysis.
Using data from the Swedish National Patient Register, the Swedish Kennel Club and the Swedish Board of Agriculture dog registers, researchers studied residents aged 40-85 who experienced a heart attack or stroke from 2001 to 2012. They then compared the “health outcomes” of those who owned a dog and those who did not. (Of the 182,000 heart attack survivors studied, 6 percent owned a dog. Of the 155,000 stroke survivors studied, 5 percent owned a dog.)
By the end, researchers determined those who suffered a stroke or heart attack and also owned a dog had a significantly lower risk of death from a heart attack or stroke compared to those who did not own a dog.
More specifically, heart attack survivors living alone who owned a dog had a 33 percent lower risk compared to those living alone who did not own a dog. Comparatively, stroke survivors living alone who also owned a dog had a 27 percent lower risk compared to those who did not.
“These two studies provide good, quality data indicating dog ownership is associated with reduced cardiac and all-cause mortality. 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,” said Dr. Glenn N. Levine, MD, in a statement to the American Heart Association.
In a separate meta-analysis study, researchers reviewed data on 3.8 million patients from 10 other studies. They found dog owners, when compared to non-owners, had a 24 percent reduced risk of “all-cause mortality,” a 65 percent reduced risk of death after a heart attack, and a 31 reduced risk of mortality “due to cardiovascular-related issues.”
“The findings that people who owned dogs lived longer and their risk for cardiovascular death was also lower are somewhat expected,” said Caroline Kramer, M.D. Ph.D., and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, in a statement.
"Our findings suggest that having a dog is associated with longer life. Our analyses did not account for confounders such as better fitness or an overall healthier lifestyle that could be associated with dog ownership. The results, however, were very positive," she added.