4 Ways Pets Can Help Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease

The idea that pets help in the recovery of patients is not new. In fact, several hospitals now utilize support animals and therapy pets to help speed up the recuperation of patients or at the very least, put them in a better mood [1]. However, the link to pets and heart disease, specifically, is a relatively recent concept.

A new scientific statement by the American Heart Association looked at the influence of pets on heart health[2]. According to its lead author Dr. Glenn N. Levine, a cardiologist at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Administration Medical Center in Houston, there have been recent reports suggesting a link between cardiovascular risk and owning pets.

Findings suggest that pet ownership is associated with a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. Scientists believe that there are a variety of explanations for this. In fact, here are some possible ways that pets can help reduce your risk of heart disease.

Pets can calm you down

Studies have shown that interacting with pets can help relieve stress and lower blood pressure[3]. According to scientists, the close proximity, the physical touch, the unconditional show of affection from these creatures, and the appreciation toward any sort of affection given to them, make pets such pleasant creatures to interact with. Pet owners often describe this interaction as an experience that is nothing short of rewarding.

Because of this pleasant experience and the favorable sensory input, the body releases feel-good chemicals like serotonin and oxytocin. These chemicals then induce a variety of changes in the body including relief from anxiety and consequently, the lowering of blood pressure[4].

For people suffering from hypertension and those who are already predisposed to the said condition, these chemicals are the safest, best side-effect-free, natural drugs that are effective in reducing further worsening of the condition to full-blown cardiovascular disease. In fact, studies have shown that those who take care of pets tend to show less cardiovascular reactivity during high-stress situations compared to those that don’t[5].

With reduced cardiovascular reactivity, your heart is less prone to suffering from any injury or developing one. This leads to a considerable reduction in the risk of having heart diseases.

Pets force you to exercise

With active pets like dogs, becoming physically active is almost inevitable. As most dog owners would tell you, taking care of these energetic creatures entails investing a lot of energy yourself – energy for training them with leather slip collars, energy for walking them around, energy for chasing after them, energy for cleaning up after them, energy for spending time with them. They are physically active animals and being with them usually means being physically active too.

A typical big breed, for example, like an adult Golden Retriever requires an average of 1 hour of physical exercise daily[6]. Breeds from harder working lines would need more. This essentially means that if you are taking care of one, then you would be spending roughly an hour of walking (at the very least) even if you’re just accompanying your dog for its daily recommended physical exercise.

In other words, even if you are not the type who likes going to the gym or taking regular jogs, you will still find yourself having regular exercises by just simply taking care of your energy-demanding pet.  This is why dog-owners, specifically, are in better shape.

Pets demand your attention (and a break from your work)

Being living creatures, pets also need some attention and affection. Like many social animals, they demand interaction and some quality time with their family – meaning you. Because of this, pets easily become a welcome office or work breaks for their owners.

This is a mutually beneficial thing too. You see, while your pets get the attention they need from you during these breaks, you also get a refreshing, revitalizing breather from the stress of work in return. A quick shot of endorphins from this simple break (and interaction) can keep your pulse and your circulation in check, bringing down unnecessarily, work-induced, high cardiovascular activity to normal healthier levels that are much safer for the heart.

This is especially true for work-driven individuals who put several hours of their time into their profession or those that bring their work home regularly. These individuals may not be aware of what’s happening in their body, but the stress that accumulates from working too much can trigger the release of stress hormones in the body, which puts additional burden on your heart.

Pets can be your own 24-hour help hotline

Since pets generally welcome any attention you give them, you can talk to them about anything. You can talk to them about the pressures of work – beating deadlines, performance ratings, insufferable co-workers, or even your commute. You can talk to them about relationships. You can talk to them about anything. They are a magnificent sounding board, and they won’t even judge you. They will just simply listen to the sound of your voice, soak up your scent, and in the case of dogs and cats, cuddle up close to you to feel your warmth. Of course, they may not necessarily answer back, but they will surely appreciate being talked to.

This practice of talking to animals is believed to produce the same benefits of petting and close interaction with pets[7]. It leads to the release of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and the general lowering of stress hormones. However, by talking, you also get the added benefit of being able to release and verbalize your feelings, which helps tremendously in decreasing the intensity of the stress, avoiding depression, and normalizing cardiovascular activity[8]. 

According to psychologists, being able to talk about what you feel not only promotes emotional awareness, but also produces therapeutic effects in the brain. This then translates to less cardiovascular reactivity and less burden to the heart.

Whether you suffer from cardiovascular disease or not, many studies suggest that having a pet can help improve your health overall. Of course, a pet also comes with a lot of responsibilities but with the many health benefits you can enjoy with having a pet, it is a good idea to start thinking of adding a pet to your family.

[2] http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/MyHeartandStrokeNews/Owning-a-Pet-May-Protect-You-from-Heart-Disease_UCM_453586_Article.jsp?appName=MobileApp
[3] https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2018/02/power-pets
[4] https://technologyadvice.com/blog/information-technology/activate-chemicals-gamify-happiness-nicole-lazzaro/
[5] https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/having-a-dog-can-help-your-heart--literally
[6] https://www.totallygoldens.com/how-much-exercise-does-a-golden-retriever-need/
[7] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/06/070622090727.htm
[8] https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2018/03/08/the-benefits-of-expressing-your-emotions/