The Secret to a Healthy Heart Is Having a Dog or Cat

Your furry friend can help keep your ticker healthy and, in turn, extend your life (yes, fur real!).

Canine companionship is good for the soul—and the heart.

Every dog owner already knows this, but now it’s official: Having a pooch might actually lengthen your life, according to a recent study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, a scientific journal by the American Heart Association.

The study’s results found that dog ownership was associated with a 31 percent reduction in cardiovascular-related mortality. What’s even more impressive was the pronounced benefit for people with existing heart problems. For this group, the reduced all-cause mortality rate jumped to 65 percent. “The benefit is really striking for people who have already had heart attacks,” says Dr. Caroline Kramer, an endocrinologist and clinical scientist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, who led the review of 10 studies involving data from nearly four million participants. That’s most likely because canine companions help us to be more social and more active, both of which are key for successful rehabilitation. (To maintain a healthy heart, these are the secrets your cardiologist wants you to know.)

Puppy love is especially important during the recovery period following a heart attack or stroke, say researchers for a 2019 Swedish study that was also published in the journal. Scientists found that heart attack survivors who lived alone with their pooches had a 33 percent reduced risk of death, while patients recovering from stroke had a 27 percent reduced risk of death if they owned dogs.

More of a cat person?

One 2008 study found that owning a cat could reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke by more than one-third, bolstering the idea that feline friends are heart-protective, too. In this case, researchers credited the stress- and anxiety-reducing vibes of cat companionship to lower blood pressure and reduced rates of heart disease in their owners.

While all four-legged friends give off an important chill-out vibe, dogs also promote a more active lifestyle, which is important to prevent cardiovascular disease. It’s difficult to disentangle whether dog people are already active before they welcome puppies into their homes or if having pooches encourages people to move more, but either way, the consistent physical activity that dog parents get is a boon for heart health, says Dr. Kramer.

She can attest to the stress-busting, feel-good benefits of being around a dog. Her own doggo, a miniature schnauzer named Romeo, has not only brought her joy and love, he’s helped her log 6,000 more steps per day on her fitness tracker, too. “I live in Toronto, so even when it’s rainy or cold, I have to take him for walks,” says Dr. Kramer. “Looking at the body of evidence we have, I really believe that having a dog makes a difference.”

Originally Published in Best Health Canada