Healthcare is big business, and it’s dependent on a steady stream of money from patients. But what if we could improve our health without spending more money? That’s my MO, and my patients appreciate it. So let’s talk about one of medicine’s best kept secrets: dogs! They can save you lots of money.. and save your life. They can even make anesthesia and surgery safer.. but you probably don’t hear about this at the doctor’s office. Let’s talk about it here!
The prestigious medical journal Circulation recently dropped a fascinating article. They showed a powerful, and fun, way to live longer: get a dog! I personally never wanted a dog, but my wife (a Rockstar emergency medicine doc) really wanted one. Fast forward 10 years, and we finally got our first puppy: Karma. She’s a mix of Alaskan malamute, shepherd, Belgian tervuren, and chinook. Her name is Karma.
Getting Karma opened my eyes to the benefits of dog ownership. There’s a long list of hard-to-believe benefits from dog ownership. I never learned these in medical school! So what are these secrets?
Hard to believe health benefits of dog ownership: live longer!
That’s right – dogs can help with heart health! Over the study period, patients who owned dogs had a 24% lower chance of dying. That’s incredible! This was in people who were generally healthy (we’ll talk about sick patients next). I don’t know of any medications that can do that. And if there are, they probably have side effects.
Secrets of heart health with dog ownership
The story gets better: dog ownership can reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems by just over 30%. Think dying from a heart attack, for example. The big question is HOW?
The biggest benefits of dog ownership? Preventing a SECOND heart attack
That’s right, if you’ve ALREADY had a heart attack, dog ownership helps even more! In those patients who had already had a heart attack, dog ownership reduced the risk of a second heart attack by 65%!
Just to put that in perspective, our standard medications lower the chance of a second heart attack by around 20-30%. This isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, but it given you a rough idea of efficacy. Unfortunately, those medications have side effects.. not as much an issue with dogs!
The secret sauce of dogs?
Well, that’s a good question. We don’t know exactly why, but here are our thoughts:
- More exercise: after all, you have to walk that dog everyday.
- More regular sleep schedule: have you tried sleeping in with a dog? You know how badly they want to go on a walk in the morning. Or else go to the bathroom! Good luck trying to sleep in.
- Microbiome: this is a big topic, and we’ll talk more about it in future posts.
- The microbiome refers to all the bacteria that live on us and inside us. As you know, dogs bring all sorts of germs inside the house. Those germs may actually be beneficial for us humans! We’re still researching this, so we’re not sure exactly which germs are responsible.
Dog ownership is more than just replacing meds!
My patients don’t always appreciate the power of alternative treatments for their medical conditions. Dog ownership is no different! I want patients to understand the WHOLE picture around heart health.
Not getting a heart attack means you don’t need to go on medications. Not needing medications is powerful! Consider:
- No meds = no need to pay for meds (this can get expensive, see my next article). It’s no joke that over 50% of US bankruptcies are related to medical costs.
- Meds have side effects. If you can avoid meds, you can avoid the side effects.
- Would you believe that dogs can help make surgery safer? That could even help reduce the opioid epidemic!
- Meds take away your freedom. The meds you take after a heart attack are lifelong. You need to take them on vacation, take them at work. Take them for the rest of your life. Once, twice, sometimes even three times a day.
But dog ownership costs money!
Yes, and so does medical care. In an upcoming article we’ll talk about just how much dogs can save you in medical costs. But remember that regardless of the cost savings, most patients think having a dog is more fun than taking medications!
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Patients deserve to know the medical secrets used against them. Please share this information with your loved ones!
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The information provided in this post in intended for general education. It is not medical advice. While I make every effort to provide the most up-to-date information, please note that new data is continuously becoming available and may change the conclusions I present here.
Kramer, Caroline K., Sadia Mehmood, and Renée S. Suen. “Dog ownership and survival: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes 12.10 (2019): e005554.
Kazi, Dhruv S. “Who is rescuing whom? Dog ownership and cardiovascular health.” (2019): e005887.
Gutierrez, Jose, et al. “Statin therapy in the prevention of recurrent cardiovascular events: a sex-based meta-analysis.” Archives of internal medicine 172.12 (2012): 909-919.