Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Pets really are good medicine: Dogs and cats may lower heart disease risks

Liam the pug waiting for his afternoon walk
There are all sorts of reasons to share your life with a dog or a cat. Pets can be a source of infinite humor, unconditional love and unrelenting joy. I know just having Liam the pug, Sinead the Boston terrier and Popoki the cat as my office mates makes my workday a little more enjoyable.

But as it turns out, pets can do more than lift your mood. They can also boost your cardiovascular health. And you don't need to take my word for it. This comes directly from the American Heart Association.

AHA officials say that people who live with pets tend to have lower levels of obesity, and they tend to have lower blood pressure readings too. That means their hearts need to work a little less hard every day, and they have a lowered chance of developing heart disease.

When researchers dug into the data, they found that people who owned dogs had better health benefits than people who owned cats. That could be due, in part, to the exercise demands barked by an average dog.

Sinead the Boston terrier poses with her leash
Hunting and herding breeds need hours of exercise each and every day in order to stay healthy and mentally challenged. That means their people must also spend hours each day coming up with activities for the dog. And most times, people do those activities with their dogs.

Tiny breeds like pugs and Boston terriers may not need so many hours each day, but they do need to get moving in order to stay fit. People who have these dogs (including me) might spend an hour or two each day in a walk.

And all of those walks are good for the heart. In some cases, those walks could even help people to lose a little weight.

But pets might do more than simply push people to get out of the house and on their feet. AHA researchers also say that pets can provide a form of moral support for people, so they're more likely to stick with the healthy habits they dream up. When you feel like someone is on your side, you might be less likely to skip out on things that could boost your overall health--like remembering to drink water each day.

Popoki the cat reminds me to drink my water

Now, I don't need any public statement in order to encourage me to love my pets. I'll do that anyway, whether or not it's good for my overall health. But I like this statement for a few reasons.

First, I think it's important to remember that the health benefits of pets go both ways. Just as a pet can motivate us to eat right and exercise, we should help to motivate our sometimes lazy pets to do the same. That might mean picking up the food bowl between meals for fat pups. It might mean using carrots to lure a reluctant dog into a walk. And it might mean using laser toys and feather wands to push our cats into playtime.

Also, I think it's vital to remember that pets aren't just hobbies. They are creatures that enrich our lives in so many ways. We should all look for ways to honor that relationship, so that people dealing with hard times can keep that positive connection alive. Shouldn't pets be allowed in homeless shelters? Shouldn't they be able to visit a loved one in the hospital? I think so. And science backs me up.

If you'd like to share this statement with the people you love, head to the AHA page here. And I'd love to hear more about how your pet helps you to stay healthy. Drop me a note in the comments, won't you?


  1. MY kitties do help me relax- almost too much :) They keep me hopping all day too- feeding, cleaning, etc.

  2. Phod sure does that for me. I sometimes think Hailey and her antics raises my blood pressure!