Does Owning a Pet Impact Heart Health?

Pets mean many things to their owners. They are often viewed as part of the family, and they are a source of much joy, laughter, and love. At the end of a long day, the snuggles from a dog or cat and their enthusiasm to see you can make a world of difference in turning a bad day into good. While many people think of dogs or cats first when thinking of pets, let’s not forget reptiles, rabbits, fish, guinea pigs, and other unique pets.   

We know that pets improve our mood and lessen our stress, but have you ever considered the benefit they may provide to your heart health? As it turns out, the pet you love may be keeping you healthy as well.

As any dog owner will attest, caring for a dog often includes an increase in physical activity. Whether through taking daily walks or playing an energetic game of fetch or tug-of-war, meeting your dog’s need for activity keeps you active as well. Overall, this leads to better weight management, and weight is a large risk factor in many heart diseases. Dogs also naturally reduce social isolation as you get out and about with them, and we know that social interaction leads to better outcomes after heart-related events. 

But studies show the benefit to pet ownership extends beyond getting out and about with your pet. Petting an animal and having the companionship they provide can reduce stress and lower your cortisol levels. Petting your dog, cat, or other animal creates an immediate physical reaction that lowers your blood pressure and heart rate. Stopping to watch the activity in an aquarium has a similar effect. Over time, this lessens the stress on your heart. 

Studies have linked pet ownership to lower risk of death after a stroke or heart attack. While these studies do not show a direct causal relationship between the two, it is clear that cat and dog owners have a leg up in recovering from heart events. Other studies have shown that pet owners have lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and heart rate. 

Pets of all varieties bring their owners a lot of physical and emotional good. Since stress and worry carry physical reactions that can lead to increased risk of heart problems, the positive emotional impact from owning pets can help reduce that risk. The love and affection pets bring, coupled with the physical demands of caring for them, can improve your heart health in meaningful ways. 

The next time you greet your pets, thank them for not only being your faithful companions, but for protecting your heart as well.