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Any dog parent can tell you that having a furry best friend has a whole slew of benefits, from providing endless cuddles to having a loyal PIC (partner in crime). Dogs have long been considered excellent companions for humans, but recent studies suggest that dogs are helping us even more than just providing us with love and friendship.

One of the studies—Dog Ownership and Survival After a Major Cardiovascular Event—found that dog owners get these extra health benefits when compared to non-dog owners:

  • A 33% lower risk of death for heart attacks in people living alone after hospitalization

  • A 15% lower risk of death for heart attacks in people living with a partner or child

  • A 27% lower risk of death in stroke patients that live alone after hospitalization

  • A 12% lower risk of death in stroke patients that live with a partner or child

To gather this data, the study used the Swedish National Patient Register to identify patients aged 40-85 that presented with an acute myocardial infarction or ischemic stroke between the dates of January 1, 2001 to December 31, 2012. They looked at sociodemographic information, dog ownership data and cause of death for patients, if applicable.

Tove Fall, co-author of this study and professor of molecular epidemiology at Uppsala University in Sweden, explains that dog ownership can give pet parents the motivation to get up and move, and this helps dogs get the exercise they need to stay healthy.

By getting this exercise, pet parents are avoiding the sedentary lifestyle that can contribute to premature death. Fall also emphasizes that the companionship of dogs can also help combat the loneliness that can lead to a sedentary lifestyle. 

In the other study, researchers performed a meta-analysis and examined patient data for over 3.8 million people taken from 10 separate studies. What they found was that compared to non-dog owners, dog owners had a:

  • 24% reduced risk of all-cause mortality

  • 65% reduced risk of mortality after a heart attack

  • 31% reduced risk of mortality from cardiovascular-related issues

However, while these studies create promising associations between dog ownership and human health, they do not prove causation or a definite link between the two.

As Dr. Haider Warraich, director of the heart failure program at the Boston VA Healthcare System, instructor at Harvard Medical school and author of “State of the Heart: Exploring the History, Science and Future of Heart Disease,” explains to NBC News that while these studies are “interesting and provocative,” he says, “it’s not enough to have me recommend patients adopt a dog to lower their risk of death.”

And don’t worry if you are not a dog person—experts suggest that you can start with any pet, including fish or small animals. NBC News explains, “Even those kinds of pets can provide a benefit, albeit a smaller one. In fact, an earlier study showed that just caring for crickets could make people healthier.”

So at the end of the day, it would seem that having a companion—whether canine, feline, big or small—comes with health benefits.

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