Research Shows Owning This Type of Pet Could Extend Your Lifespan
Pet owners know those walks and cuddles come with feel-good benefits. Now, scientific studies show that pets are helping us live longer.
If you have the privilege of sharing your home with a pet, you likely have anecdotal evidence that having a bond with a furry (or scaled, or feathered) companion comes with health perks. And according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), owning pets can help manage depression, stress, anxiety, loneliness, and symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
With these potential pet-based health benefits in mind, it would make sense that owning a pet may help you live longer. Turns out, there’s scientific evidence that pet ownership can actually extend your lifespan.
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Data suggest people with dogs tend to live longer
According to the experts, simply put: Yes—in many cases, owning a dog can help you live longer. In one 2019 review published in an American Heart Association journal, the authors (led by Caroline K. Kramer, MD, PhD) found that dog ownership was associated with a 24% risk reduction for all-cause mortality compared to non-ownership.
Based on the currently available research, it seems that most of this positive benefit stems from two major factors:
- Dogs can improve your cardiovascular health by promoting greater rates of physical activity;
- and they also bestow you with a sense of social connection.
“Scientific research has demonstrated that the human-animal bond can positively influence the emotional, psychological, and physical health and wellbeing of people, in ways such as increasing physical activity, lowering blood pressure, and improving social connectedness,” explains Lindsey Braun, vice president of research & operations with the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI). “Many such benefits contribute to a longer, healthier life.”
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Improving cardiovascular health and resilience
Braun highlights research that’s shown pet owners, particularly dog owners, are more likely to meet the recommended amount of physical activity through walking. “One study that examined new dog owners after 12 months of ownership found that dog acquisition leads to an increase in hours spent walking per week. New owners tend to naturally take on the responsibility of dog walking, as dogs can provide powerful behavioral incentives to increase recreational walking.”
The CDC notes that by increasing your physical activity, dog ownership may help improve your overall cardiovascular heart—in particular by lowering your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels.
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Owning a dog may also help improve your health outcome following a major cardiovascular event, like a heart attack. Liisa Byberg, PhD, a professor in the department of surgical sciences and medical epidemiology at Uppsala University in Sweden, authored a study that found that the risk of death for dog-owning heart attack patients who live alone after being hospitalized was 33% lower compared to non-dog-owners. In the study, dog owners were also less likely to experience recurrent heart attacks.
Dr. Byberg says they can currently only really speculate about the mechanisms that conferred these benefits and why they seemed to be connected to living alone. “One potential explanation could be that dogs can provide psychosocial support in environments where human companionship is not available,” Byberg says. She too backs the point about physical activity: “In a single household, the person is probably more likely to be responsible for the walking routines.”
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Do dogs owners get sick less often?
Braun says that aside from research supporting the connection between improved cardiovascular health and social wellbeing and dog ownership, she’s not aware of much current research exploring whether pet owners get sick less often.
But, she says, there is growing evidence that owning a pet or having close interactions with a pet may offer a protective effect against Clostridioides difficile (often called C. diff) infections, most likely by exposing you to more bacteria and thereby strengthening your immune system. A 2023 study in the peer-reviewed medical journal PLOS One also found that continuous exposure to dogs and cats from fetal development to infancy reduced subject’s risk of developing food allergies, likely using the same mechanism.
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Yes, other types of pets could help you live longer
A majority of the research looking into how pet ownership can improve your health and, in turn, your lifespan, focuses on dog ownership. But there is some evidence that pet ownership in general may also offer health perks that could help you live longer.
In one 2020 study people who owned cats had a reduced risk of dying from a cardiovascular event. And in a 2022 review, the authors reported how some studies show that pet ownership as a whole may reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure, help better manage it, and improve your prognosis after experiencing a heart attack or stroke.
In another review published in 2020, the authors write that “Pet ownership, or just being in the presence of a companion animal, is associated with health benefits, including improvements in mental, social, and physiologic health status.”
So grab that frisbee, leash, brush or treat and give your little one some love. Braun says loneliness and social isolation can be significant threats to health, while research strongly suggests that social connections greatly improve longevity.
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- Annales Médico-Psychologiques: "Companion animals and pets: An underestimated medico-psychological support?"
- Lindsey Braun, vice president of research & operations with the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI)
- Liisa Byberg, professor in the department of surgical sciences and medical epidemiology at Uppsala University, Sweden
- Centers for Disease Control: How to Stay Healthy Around Pets
- Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes: "Dog ownership and survival: A systematic review and meta-analysis."
- Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes: "Dog ownership and survival after a major cardiovascular event: A register-based prospective study."
- Current Hypertension Reports: "Pet ownership and the risk of arterial hypertension and cardiovascular Disease"
- Journal of Cardiovascular Medicine: "Association between pet ownership and cardiovascular risks and mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis
- Open Forum Infectious Diseases: "Pet Ownership Protects Against Recurrence of Clostridioides difficile Infection
- Perelman School of Medicine: "The Benefits of Pet Ownership"
- PLOS ONE: "Associations between fetal or infancy pet exposure and food allergies: The Japan Environment and Children's Study"