Background: Dog ownership is associated with increased physical activity levels and increased social support, both of which could improve the outcome after a major cardiovascular event. Dog ownership may be particularly important in single-occupancy households where ownership provides substitutive companionship and motivation for physical activity.
Methods and results: We used the Swedish National Patient Register to identify all patients aged 40 to 85 presenting with an acute myocardial infarction (n=181 696; 5.7% dog ownership) or ischemic stroke (n=154 617; 4.8% dog ownership) between January 1, 2001 and December 31, 2012. Individual information was linked across registers for cause of death, sociodemographic, and dog ownership data. We evaluated all-cause mortality and risk of recurrent hospitalization for the same cause until December 31, 2012. Models were adjusted for socioeconomic, health, and demographic factors at study inclusion such as age, marital status, the presence of children in the home, area of residence, and income, as well as all registered comorbidities and hospitalization for cardiovascular disease in the past 5 years. Dog owners had a lower risk of death after hospitalization for acute myocardial infarction during the full follow-up period of 804 137 person-years, with an adjusted hazard ratio (HR) of 0.67 (95% CI, 0.61 to 0.75) for those who lived alone, and HR of 0.85 (95% CI, 0.80 to 0.90) for those living with a partner or a child. Similarly, after an ischemic stroke, dog owners were at lower risk of death during the full follow-up of 638 219 person-years adjusted HR of 0.73 (95% CI, 0.66 to 0.80) for those who lived alone and HR of 0.88 (95% CI, 0.83 to 0.93) for those living with a partner or a child. We further found an association of dog ownership with reduced risk of hospitalization for recurrent myocardial infarction (HR, 0.93; 95% CI, 0.87 to 0.99).
Conclusions: We found evidence of an association of dog ownership with a better outcome after a major cardiovascular event. Although our models are adjusted for many potential confounders, there are also unmeasured confounders such as smoking that prevent us from drawing conclusions regarding a possible causal effect.
Keywords: cardiovascular diseases; dog ownership; motivation; myocardial infarction.