COMMENTARY

Are Pet Owners Healthier?

Sandra Adamson Fryhofer, MD

Disclosures

December 17, 2013

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Hello. I'm Dr. Sandra Fryhofer. Welcome to Medicine Matters. The topic: pets and heart disease risk, a new study in the journal Circulation.[1] Here's why it matters.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in this country. But this new study says having a pet, especially a dog, could lower your heart disease risk. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes are risk factors for heart disease. Previous studies have linked having a pet to having lower blood pressure. I assume that's once the pet is housebroken. There is even a study that found that men who had dogs had lower cholesterol levels.[2]

Now, people with dogs are generally physically more active than those who don't have one. It makes sense if you walk the dog or if the dog walks you. No significant increases in physical activity have been linked to having cats or other pets.

Having a pet doesn't mean you'll weigh less, but in general, people who walk their dogs do.

Pets provide support in other ways. They provide encouragement and motivation, even in weight loss programs. Pets also provide support in a nonhuman way. Pets are companions and have a positive effect on the body's reaction to stress.

For those with established heart disease, having a pet of any kind was linked to increased survival, dog ownership especially so.

Although this study stops short of recommending that people get a pet to protect their heart, having one does seem to provide some cardioprotective benefits. So don't buy, rescue, or adopt a pet just to protect your own heart. You also have to be willing to share your heart with your furry friend.

For Medicine Matters, I'm Dr. Sandra Fryhofer.

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