Multiple studies have linked dog and cat ownership with better heart health, less stress and even a lower risk of death. Here's a look at why this might be.
For at least 2,000 years, we've been domesticating animals for work and companionship. Half of British adults own at least one pet
One of the largest studies into pets affecting health found that dog ownership is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and lower stress levels2. This fascinating research tracked over 34,000 people and their pets over a period of 12 years. Only people aged 40 to 80 were included in the study, as this age group is at the largest risk of heart disease. These results vary from breed to breed, as some pooches require considerably more exercise than others,but there was a significant link between owning a dog and heart disease risk. It also discovered that dog owners were 24% less likely to die from any cause.
The same study found that hunting dog breeds were more strongly linked with a decrease in heart disease, probably because of the extra exercise these owners would be getting daily. These results were even more favourable in people who lived alone; they were 31% less likely to die from heart disease4.
Owning a dog could be especially useful for people over the age of 65. A 2017 study found that over 65's with dogs walked for 22 minutes more than their pet-less counterparts5. It's hard to say conclusively that dogs are behind this improvement in health, but there is a significant link. Getting a dog is a great way to combat loneliness, which is a growing problem in our ageing population. Dogs could help us fight off feeling alone and improve our stress levels.
There are differences between cat and dog ownership when it comes to health. Cats are one of the more relaxing pet choices – caring for them requires considerably less physical effort when compared with dogs. Living with a cat has been associated with a decrease in fatal heart attacks. This might be because cat owners are generally more relaxed people or that living with a cat actively improves a person's health3.
Owning a pet isn't always practical. They require your constant care and attention. The average cost of owning a dog is often more than £1,800 per year - food, vet bills and toys can be expensive. If you can't commit to owning a pet, why not volunteer at a local animal shelter, or ask to look after a neighbour's pet when they're away, or join one of the growing band of dog walking businesses.