According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the No. 1 leading cause of mortality in the United States is heart disease. The number of heart disease-related deaths is 5 times greater than all accidental (unintentional injury) deaths combined, according to the CDC.

Typically caused by poor lifestyle choices, heart disease is something we can proactively combat by making good lifestyle choices. In fact, one unconventional method of combating the condition is to simply own a pet.

But what does owning a pet have to do with fighting heart disease? The American Heart Association has studied the relationship between pet ownership (mostly dog or cat) and cardiovascular disease (CVD) and found that there is a strong correlation to a reduced risk for heart-related disease.

This risk reduction may be the result of pet owners getting more physical activity simply by interacting with their pets, such as going for walks or playing fetch. This increased physical activity then leads to:

  • Improved lipid profiles (cholesterol & triglycerides)
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved autonomic tone (involved with heartbeat/rhythm)
  • Improved capacity to cope with stress
  • Improved survival after acute coronary syndrome (obstruction of coronary arteries)

The study cannot definitively state that every pet parent will see a reduced risk for heart-related disease because outcomes depend on the individual. But it does give some insights about the behaviors of pet owners.

One idea is that healthier people are more likely to own a pet than people who choose a less healthy lifestyle. Another may be that owning a pet—particularly a dog—encourages individuals to participate in physical activity more frequently than others.

Isn’t it convenient that we inadvertently take care of our own health, thanks to our natural drive to care for dependent beings, such as a cat or dog? Morning walks with the pup look much more promising right about now!

In another independent study conducted by Michigan State University, dog owners were 34% more likely to meet the minimum weekly criteria of physical activity. For adults between the ages of 19 and 64, that would be 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate intensity exercise per week.

These studies raise other questions, as many unmeasured variables factor into the overall equation. For instance, because each person is a unique individual, it’s not clear that the simple act of purchasing or adopting a pet will result in a reduced risk of CVD. Rather, the influence of owning a pet could improve the likelihood of someone adopting healthy behaviors that do reduce the risk of CVD.

In any case, the psychological facets of the human-pet bond require further study. After all, pets have been a major part of human culture for thousands of years, and they continue to affect society in new ways. So, with health in mind, you can return the favor by considering a dog insurance plan for your four-legged companion. For more information, check out this informational page about ASPCA Pet Insurance.