In a study that compared new pet owners to non-owners, those who acquired a pet experienced a highly-significant reduction in minor health problems during the first month of pet ownership, and these benefits were sustained over time for dog owners. Dog owners also significantly increased their recreational walking, and this enhancement in physical activity was also maintained over time17.
Physical Activity and Healthy Bodyweight Management
Regular physical activity improves mental health and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, colon cancer, diabetes, and a variety of other diseases18. Several large studies have now documented that dog owners get more exercise than nonowners19-23. Dog owners engage in more walking and physical activity than non-owners are more likely to achieve recommended levels of physical activity25-28. Older adult dog owners take more steps, sit for shorter periods of time, and are more likely to walk at a cadence necessary to achieve recommended activities goals29. Associations with weight status are unclear and may depend on the type of dog owned, length of ownership and the nature of walks or interaction28.
Pet owners have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease as they have significantly lower blood pressure, plasma triglycerides and cholesterol30. Pet ownership also makes a significant difference in the 1-year survival rate for serious heart attacks—94% of heart patients with pets survive heart attacks, compared to 72% without pets31, although a later study found this effect only for dog ownership. This may be due, in part, to pet owners being more likely to adhere to cardiac rehabilitation programs32. Cat ownership, specifically, has been associated with a decreased risk for death due to myocardial infarction, and all cardiovascular diseases33 although some studies have shown no benefit or even worse than non-pet-ownership. A study conducted on 561 patients in China reported a reduced risk of Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) among dog owners when compared to cat owners34. This study also reported that the risk of CAD decreased with increasing number of years of pet ownership. The American Heart Association has issued a statement in support of the role that pet ownership-- particularly of dogs--can play in reducing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD)35. Importantly, they state that there is a probably a causal role, indicating that pets, particularly dogs, may be responsible for a decreased risk of CVD.
Pet ownership is associated with a decreased risk of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL), and the longer the duration of pet ownership, the less the likelihood of developing this type of cancer. The study authors theorize that because animal exposure during infancy may reduce the prevalence of allergies later in life, it is possible that the reduced risk of NHL is due to altered immune function and desensitization to allergens36. We do have to use caution in making claims about the associations between pet ownership and various cancers because there were recently a number of published papers linking pet ownership to nine different types of cancers37-39. These studies use large medical databases and after controlling for a number of potential confounders the associations to pet ownership disappear, indicating that they were spurious. The good news is that there is no evidence that living with a pet causes cancer, but for the same reason we must also be cautious about making any positive claims about pet ownership and cancer..