Many studies have explored the relationship between pet ownership and cardiovascular health through focusing on the blood pressure, heart rate and physical activity of pet owners compared to non-pet owners. The American Heart Association reviewed these studies and issued a Scientific Statement connecting pet ownership to the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
Lowering Blood Pressure
- Pet owners have significantly lower systolic blood pressure than non-pet owners
- Pet ownership – particularly dog ownership – is associated with decreased CVD risk
A common public health recommendation is that persons obtain either at least 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity activity on 5 or more days a week, or at least 20 minutes a day of vigorous-intensity activity on 3 or more days a week. Walking for physical activity is widely promoted as it is readily accessible and can be undertaken by the majority of adults. Additionally, walking improves cardiac risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, vascular stiffness and inflammation and mental stress.
Increasing Physical Activity
- Dog owners engage in more physical activity and walking and are more likely to achieve the recommended physical activity than non-owners
- On average, dog owners walk more minutes per week than non-owners
- Pets positively influence the level of human physical activity
- Dog owners engage in significantly more minutes per week of physical activity and walking and were 57% more likely to meet the recommended level of physical activity than non-owners
- Dog walking is associated with a lower incidence of obesity
A study that analyzed data from a 2005 Michigan Behavioral Risk Factor Survey found that dog walking was associated with a significant increase in walking activity and leisure-time physical activity, and concluded that the promotion of dog walking could help increase LTPA
- Dog walkers walked about an hour more per week than dog owners who did not walk their dog, and about a half an hour more per week than non-dog owners
- Approximately 60% of dog walkers met the criteria for regular moderate and/or vigorous leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) compared with about 45% for non-dog owners and dog owners who did not walk their dog
- Compared with non-dog owners, the odds of obtaining at least 150 minutes per week of total walking were 34% higher for dog walkers and the odds of doing any LTPA were 69% higher
- A significantly lower relative risk for death due to cardiovascular diseases (including a stroke) has been observed among cat owners
Reducing Stress and Improving Cardiovascular Recovery
- A growing body of literature has implicated the duration of cardiovascular recovery following stressor exposure as a risk factor for essential hypertension.
- Pets can buffer reactivity to acute stress as well as diminish perceptions of stress.
- Relative to non-owners, people with pets had significantly lower resting heart rate, systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure; exhibited significantly lower HR, SBP and DBP reactivity during a mental arithmetic task, and returned to baseline levels faster.
A recently published HABRI-funded study found that a simple email intervention sharing the importance of walking and the positive impact of walking on a dog’s health were effective tools to promote walking.
These interventions caused participants to increase and maintain dog walking over a 12-month period.
Email intervention for non-dog owners also increased weekly minutes of walking, however dog owners accumulated significantly more walking minutes per week than non-dog owners.
For more information about Cardiovascular Disease:
Friedmann, Erika, and Sue A. Thomas. “Pet ownership, social support, and one-year survival after acute myocardial infarction in the Cardiac Arrhythmia Suppression Trial (CAST).” The American journal of cardiology 76.17 (1995): 1213-1217.
Qureshi, Adnan I et al. “Cat Ownership and the Risk of Fatal Cardiovascular Diseases. Results from the Second National Health and Nutrition Examination Study Mortality Follow-up Study.” Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology 2.1 (2009): 132–135.
Allen, Karen, Jim Blascovich, and Wendy B. Mendes. “Cardiovascular reactivity and the presence of pets, friends, and spouses: The truth about cats and dogs.” Psychosomatic medicine 64.5 (2002): 727-739.