Compared to people who did not own a dog, researchers found that dog owners had a 33 percent lower risk of death after being hospitalised a heart attack if they lived alone, and a 15 percent lower risk if they lived with a partner or child.
"Single owners have to do all the dog walks and we know that physical activity is important in rehabilitation after a myocardial infarction or stroke", Fall added. "Further, these two studies provide good, quality data indicating dog ownership is associated with reduced cardiac and all-cause mortality".
Using health data provided by the Swedish National Patient Register, the first study, "Dog ownership and survival after a major cardiovascular event-a registry-based, prospective study", compared the health outcomes of dog owners and non-owners after a heart attack or a stroke.
The study participants were between the ages of 40 and 85 and had suffered heart attacks or strokes between 2001 and 2012.
"I don't think that this is what many people think about when adopting a dog", said Dr. Haider Warraich, director of the heart failure program at the Boston VA Healthcare System and who was not involved in the research.
Dog ownership may be linked with a reduced risk of premature death and better cardiovascular outcomes. Caroline Kramer of the University of Toronto and her co-authors completed what is known as a meta-analysis by poring over the results of 10 existing studies on people with canine companions, and the overall chance of an owner dying of any cause.
A recent University of Toronto study shows dog owners had a 24% lower risk of dying early.
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Having a dog also related to positive health impacts like "lower blood pressure levels, improved lipid profile, and diminished sympathetic responses to stress", according to Kramer.
Man's best friend has always been praised for the ability to help mental wellbeing, reducing anxiety and loneliness, but less has been reported about how dogs might have a positive effect on physical health.
But the Swedish study suggests that the companionship of a dog also contributes to a person's health, said Dr. Dhruv Kazi, associate director of the Smith Center for Outcomes Research in Cardiology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston. For stroke patients living solo, the risk of another stroke was 27% lower, while repeat stroke risk was 12% lower for dog owners who didn't live alone.
Dog-ownership has always been associated with better mental health.
"My own hypothesis is that the biggest driver of this is what dog ownership does for one's mental health", said Kazi, who wrote an accompanying editorial about the two new reports.
Additionally, investigators observed a significant decrease in the risk of death associated with dog ownership in a cohort of 6 studies, but there was significant heterogeneity in the individual estimates of the magnitude of the association (I2=97.6%, P 0.001).
Intramural funds from Mount Sinai Hospital funded the meta-analysis.