After a thorough study using US women over the age of 50 as a case study, researchers found that those that had a dog or a cat (pet owners) are not likely to die of cardiovascular attacks such as stroke.
The increase in physical activity required of those who keep pets can be linked to lower risk of deaths occurring from stroke.
Almost 4,000 adults ranging from 50 years and above who have no major illnesses were used in the study.
The individuals were actively involved in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) in 1988 to 1994 where they reported their pet ownership.
About 35 percent of people owned pets, most often a dog and the pet owners tended to look younger, more often were married, and more often were white.
The findings made by the study is further proven by the National Death Index of 2006, which states that 11 of every 1,000 non-pet owners had died of cardiovascular disease, compared to about 7 of every 1,000 pet owners.
Ironically, the study revealed that female pet owners are likely to outlive their male counterparts. Male pet owners are most likely to die from stroke unlike the female pet owners.
“Anecdotally, we believe that walking a dog is good for heart, reducing life pressure and blood pressure as well,” said senior author Jian Zhang of the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health at Georgia Southern University (GSU) in the United States.
“I strongly believe that putative benefits of keeping a dog have not yet fully translated into reality, and we found that pet owners did not walk pets, certainly, dogs, more often than others,” Zhang said.
“This explains why owning a dog did not reduce CVD mortality among dog owners.”
On the other hand, cat owners may have a personality that protects their hearts, rather than cats actually having a concrete effect on heart health, he said.
“We are short of overall assessment of the associations of companion animals with human health, and our study should not be interpreted to encourage more people to own pets, either dog or cat,” Zhang said.
“Pets are good, but have to be kept responsibly.
Dr Richard F. Gillum of Howard University College of Medicine in Washington DC who was not part of the new study but was part of the NHANES surveys, had a contradicting opinion to add as he said “In my study, there was a tendency for pet owners to have a higher risk of dying,”
“Data from NHANES are really inadequate to settle the question, since one can only determine there was a pet in the household, but not the number of pets or whether the study participant was the owner, cared for it or interacted with it,” Gillum said.
“So we need to wait for better studies before making any firm conclusions about pets and survival among their owners.
“Even if there were a reduction of death from stroke among women with cats, of what importance is that in public health terms if they are just as likely to die as other women, just from another cause,” he said, maintaining that mos findings show no real connection between pets, longevity and survival.