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Pets keep our hearts healthy

Feb 02, 2016

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 Author: Merrilee T. Small, DVM, DACVIM (Cardiology) – Cardiologist at The COVE 

Pets play an important role in our lives - not just our mental well-being, but also our physical well-being.  So much so that a new field of study, Zooeyia (pronounced "zoo-AY-uh"), was established to investigate the human health benefits of companion animals.  Researchers categorize the ways companion animals benefit humans into 4 helpful subsets:  1) Builders of social capital, 2) Agents of harm reduction, 3) Motivation for personal behavior change, and 4) Potential participants in therapeutic plans.

Here are some interesting ways your dog, cat, horse, or even fish can improve your cardiovascular health:

  • Dog owners that routinely walk their pets have lower blood pressure and lower incidence of obesity. The benefit of regular exercise is obvious, but this is probably only the tip of the iceberg. 
  • Pet owners have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, regardless of body mass or activity level.
  • Petting a dog or even watching fish swim results in a reduction of cortisol production (a stress hormone) and increase in serotonin production (a calming hormone).
  • Petting a dog has been shown to reduce blood pressure in hypertensive children and adults. In the short-term (over a period of hours), petting a dog worked better than commonly prescribed ACE inhibitor drugs.
  • In a study of 240 married couples, those with a pet had significantly lower heart rate and blood pressure than those without. When facing a stressful situation, heart rate and blood pressure normalized more rapidly when the person was exposed to their pet than to a friend or EVEN THEIR SPOUSE!
  • Regardless of severity of heart attack, pet owners have a greater one-year survival rate following a heart attack.
  • In a 20-year study, people who had never owned a cat were 40% more likely to die of a heart attack than those who had.
  • And just to confirm how mystical our feline friends are, cats seem to confer a greater decrease in risk of stroke than all other animals - possibly due to their calming influence. We have to agree, there’s nothing quite as soothing as the sound of a purring kitty! 

So your beloved pet helps keep our hearts healthy, what can you do to return the favor?

  • Up to 10% of all dogs will develop heart disease in their lifetime. The occurrence is much higher in certain breeds:
    • 20% of small breed dogs will develop heart disease by age 10. This increases to over 75% for small breed dogs over the age of 16.
    • Up to 50% of Doberman Pinchers and up to 75% of Boxer dogs have a genetic mutation that predisposes to heart diseases.
  • Anywhere from 16-44% of cats without any cardiac symptoms will develop a heart murmur and up to 60% of those cats have clinically important heart disease.
  • Systemic hypertension is increasingly diagnosed in our aging population of dogs and cats as well.  All pets over the age of 11 should have blood pressure measurement as part of their routine physical exam.
  • Exercise regularly with your pet.  Walk in the neighborhood or play Frisbee with your dog.  Encourage your cat to play with its toys. For tips on walking your dog, check out last month’s COVE blog post.
  • Keep your pet at a healthy weight. Although coronary artery disease is uncommon in dogs and cats, obesity puts a strain on the cardiovascular system as well as the joints. To learn more, click here.
  • Feed your pet a diet with an appropriate amount of sodium. Most commercial diets are fine for healthy dogs and cats, but avoid excessive amounts of treats such as deli meat, rotisserie chicken, cheeses, bread, and peanut butter. If you have questions about the sodium content of a commercial pet treat, ask your primary care veterinarian.heart_month_cat.jpg

The best way to screen for the presence of cardiovascular disease in your pet is to schedule routine physical exams with your primary care veterinarian.  Pets should be examined annually before the age of 10 and twice annually thereafter.  

If a cardiac issue is diagnosed or suspected in your pet, your primary care veterinarian may refer you and your pet to a board-certified veterinary cardiologist for evaluation. This is a specialist who has completed advanced training in the management of cardiovascular disease in animals.  A veterinary cardiologist may perform testing not available to your primary vet to better assess your pet's health and to help make a medical plan for management and monitoring. To learn about advanced veterinary cardiology services available at The COVE, click here.


Resources

To learn about signs of heart disease in dogs, click here.

To learn about signs of heart disease in cats, click here.

If you would like to learn more about veterinary cardiologists, please click here.

References

27 Ways Pets Improve Your Health in Pictures - WebMD

Hodgson K et al.  Pets' Impact on Your Patients' Health: Leveraging Benefits and Mitigating Risk.  J Am Board Fam Med July-August 2015 vol. 28 no. 4526-534  

Kushner RF, Blatner DJ, Jewell DE, Rudloff K. The PPET Study: People and Pets Exercising Together.Obesity. 2006;14:1762–1770. 

Qureshi A, et al. Cats as domestic pets reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases: results from the Second National     Health and       Nutrition Examination Study Mortality Follow-Up Study. Abstracts from the 2008 International Stroke        Conference. Stroke2008;39:642

Owen CG, et al.  Family dog ownership and levels of physical activity in childhood: findings from the Child Heart and Health Study         in England. Am J Public Health 2010;100:166971.  

Allen KM, et al.  Cardiovascular reactivity in the presence of pets, friends, and spouses: the truth about cats and dogs.Psychosom Med 2002;64:72739.

Dettweiler et al.  The prevalence of spontaneous occurring heart disease in the dog.  AJPH 1961; 51(2); 228-242. 

Atkins C, Bonagura J, Ettinger S, et al. Guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of canine chronic valvular heart disease. J Vet Intern Med. 2009;23(6):1142–1150



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Category: Pet Health Tips