A dog at home means longer life and better cardiovascular health, especially for heart attack and stroke survivors who live alone, according to a new study and a separate meta-analysis on the subject.
Prior studies have shown that dog ownership alleviates social isolation, improves physical activity and even lowers blood pressure.
"The two new studies provide good, quality data indicating dog ownership is associated with reduced cardiac and all-cause mortality," said Glenn N.Levine, Chair of the writing group of the American Heart Association's scientific statement on pet ownership.
Researchers in this study compared the health outcomes of dog owners and non-owners after a heart attack or stroke using health data provided by the Swedish National Patient Register.
The patients studied were Swedish residents aged 40-85 who experienced a heart attack or an ischemic stroke from 2001-2012.
Compared to people who did not own a dog, researchers found that for dog owners, the risk of death for heart attack patients living alone after hospitalization was 33 per cent lower, and 15 per cent lower for those living with a partner or child.
The risk of death for stroke patients living alone after hospitalization was 27 per cent lower and 12 per cent lower for those living with a partner or child.
In the study, nearly 182,000 people were recorded to have had a heart attack, with almost 6 per cent being dog owners, and nearly 155,000 people were recorded to have had an ischemic stroke, with almost 5 per cent being dog owners.
The lower risk of death associated with dog ownership could be explained by an increase in physical activity and the decreased depression and loneliness, both of which have been connected to dog ownership in previous studies.
"Keeping a dog is a good motivation for physical activity, which is an important factor in rehabilitation and mental health," said Tove Fall, professor at Uppsala University in Sweden.
In the meta-analysis, Researchers reviewed patient data of over 3.8 million people taken from 10 separate studies for a composite meta-analysis study.
Researchers found that compared to non-owners, dog owners experienced a 24 per cent reduced risk of all-cause mortality, 65 per cent reduced risk of mortality after heart attack; and 31 per cent reduced risk of mortality due to cardiovascular-related issues.
"Having a dog was associated with increased physical exercise, lower blood pressure levels and better cholesterol profile in previous reports," said Caroline Kramer, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto.
The findings of the study and meta-analysis were published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, a journal of the American Heart Association.