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Heart association suggests pets lower CVD risk

Thursday May 9, 2013
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Having a pet might lower your risk of heart disease, according to a statement from the American Heart Association.

"Pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, is probably associated with a decreased risk of heart disease," Glenn N. Levine, MD, professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and chairman of the committee that wrote the statement based on a review of previous studies, said in a news release.

As published May 9 on the website of the journal Circulation, the committee reported a review of previous research showing that pet ownership likely is associated with a reduction in heart disease risk factors and increased survival among patients.

But the studies are not definitive and do not necessarily prove that owning a pet causes reduction in heart disease risk. "It may be simply that healthier people are the ones that have pets, not that having a pet actually leads to or causes reduction in cardiovascular risk," Levine said.

Dog ownership in particular may help cardiovascular risk, according to the statement. People with dogs may engage in more physical activity because they walk them. In a study of more than 5,200 adults, dog owners engaged in more walking and physical activity than people who did not own dogs, and were 54% more likely to get the recommended level of physical activity.

Owning pets may be associated with lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, according to the statement, and pets can have a positive effect on the body’s reaction to stress.

"In essence, data suggest that there probably is an association between pet ownership and decreased cardiovascular risk," Levine said. "What’s less clear is whether the act of adopting or acquiring a pet could lead to a reduction in cardiovascular risk in those with pre-existing disease. Further research, including better-quality studies, is needed to more definitively answer this question."

Even with a probable link, people should not adopt, rescue or buy a pet solely to reduce cardiovascular risk, Levine said.

Read a PDF of the statement: http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/2013/05/09/CIR.0b013e31829201e1.full.pdf.

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