Having a pet might lower a person's risk of heart disease, but it may be simply
that healthier people have pets, U.S. researchers say.
An American Heart Association scientific statement published online in the
association's journal Circulation said pet ownership is probably associated with
a reduction in heart disease risk factors and increased survival among patients.
But the studies aren't definitive and do not necessarily prove that owning a pet
directly causes a reduction in heart disease risk.
Dr. Glenn N. Levine, professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and
chairman of the committee that wrote the statement after reviewing previous
studies of the influence of pets, said, "It may be simply that healthier people
are the ones that have pets, not that having a pet actually leads to or causes
reduction in cardiovascular risk."
Dog ownership in particular might help reduce cardiovascular risk because people
with dogs may engage in more physical activity because they walk them. In a
study of more than 5,200 adults, dog owners engaged in more walking and physical
activity than non-dog owners and were 54 percent more likely to get the
recommended level of physical activity.
In addition, owning pets might be associated with lower blood pressure and
cholesterol levels, and a lower incidence of obesity.
Pets could also have a positive effect on the body's reactions to stress.
"In essence, data suggest that there probably is an association between pet
ownership and decreased cardiovascular risk," Levine said. "What's less clear is
whether the act of adopting or acquiring a pet could lead to a reduction in
cardiovascular risk in those with pre-existing disease. Further research is
needed to more definitively answer this question."