December 4, 2017

Can Owning a Dog Truly Improve Your Health? Our Expert Weighs In on a Recent Study

Dr. Hathaway and his golden retriever, Beau, enjoy the outdoors together.

By William R. Hathaway, MD, FACC
Chief Medical Officer, Mission Health

A recent study shows that owning a dog is associated with a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease and death. As a happy owner of dogs throughout my life – including my golden retriever, Beau, who is a therapy dog – I can’t say I’m the least bit surprised by this report.

In fact, pet ownership has been known for years to correlate with lower cardiovascular disease risk and particularly with lower heart rate and blood pressure. The aforementioned study only adds to that body of literature.

This likely relates to several factors:

  • Reduced levels of stress hormones
  • Higher levels of circulating oxytocin, which promotes feelings of well-being
  • Higher levels of exercise

Regardless of the mechanism, we know the association exists between owning a pet and living a healthier life. It’s just another great reason to own a dog.

It is also among the many reasons that Mission Health uses pet therapy to help patients heal. Sandy K., whose dog, Tofi, is a therapy dog for Mission’s Pet Therapy program, says she has seen from personal experience the immensely positive impact these loving animals can have on someone’s healing process.

“In June of this year, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, had a lumpectomy and underwent radiation treatments. Tofi, helped me to get out of the house during my treatments while continuing my pet therapy visitations at the Cancer Center,” said Sandy. “These visits provided me the exercise and mindset I needed to improve my well-being. It also helped the patients as they always looked forward to Tofi’s visits. Tofi has helped many of the patients open up and express their anxieties. With my cancer diagnosis, and with Tofi by my side, I’m able to relate to my patients while Tofi maintains a calmness for them.”

William R. Hathaway, MD, FACC, is the Chief Medical Officer of Mission Health.

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