Longevity and Pets

Whether you’re a dog person or a friend to felines, pets can have a major positive impact on our well-being. In fact, there are a lot of ways in which a pet can even help to extend our longevity, too. Numerous studies have proven that, in one way or another, a pet can help relieve stress, offer companionship and give us purpose, and they get us moving more as well.

According to Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Heart Association, having a dog has been linked to living longer. They reviewed 10 studies published between 1950 and 2019 that evaluated dog ownership by more than three million participants, and its overall association with mortality. Scientists found that people who owned dogs were likely to live longer than those who didn’t and, overall, they had a 24% reduced risk of death from any cause.

The same holds true for cat owners. A study published in the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology in 2009 looked at more than 4,000 people over a 20-year span and found that people who owned cats had a lower risk of death due to heart attack or stroke. WebMD cited the study as well – the men and women were aged 30 to 75, they were all free of cardiovascular disease when they entered the study in the 1970s, and more than half (55%) reported having a pet cat at some point in their lives. Compared to cat owners, people who never had a cat were 40% more likely to die of a heart attack during the same 20-year study period, and 30% were more likely to die of some form of cardiovascular disease, such as stroke, heart failure or chronic heart disease.

Believe it or not, it’s not just dogs and cats that can help extend your lifespan – any type of pet can have positive effects. In Japan, where concerns about allergic reactions and bites have kept nursing homes from bringing in live pets, robotic therapy animals have been substituted with much success, verywellhealth.com reported. For example, Paro, a robotic seal with artificial fur and a lovable face, has been used in several countries including Denmark, Italy, Japan and even the U.S., and has proven to improve depression in many nursing home residents.

The point is, pets help us in a number of ways, many of which have an impact on how long we live.

  • They get you moving, especially animals that require exercise, such as dogs. Studies show that people who walk their dogs get significantly more exercise than those who don’t (American Heart Association).
  • They give you purpose. Animals rely on us humans to love and take care of them. That can be a great incentive to get up and about.
  • They provide companionship. This is especially important for people who live alone, or for those who might be recovering from some sort of injury or surgery. The American Heart Association said that heart attack survivors who live alone had a reduced risk of death if they owned a dog.
  • They help eliminate stress. Research has proven that the simple act of petting a cat or a dog can lower blood pressure and help relieve stress or anxiety.
  • They improve our mental health. Their unconditional love, their silly animal ways – these can help boost our spirits. Interacting with dogs can up your production of “happy hormones” such as oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine (American Heart Association) – and this can lead to a greater sense of well-being and help lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Our pets can also help us feel decreased social anxiety and encourage us to interact more with other humans – that is likely why dog owners report less loneliness, depression and social isolation.

If you want to add some years to your life and have some adorable company along the way, then consider cat or dog ownership. Take it a step further and rescue an animal – then, in many ways, you’ll be saving each other.

by Jennifer Cox