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I have heard many times that if you keep a pet, you tend to live longer. I have many friends and family members whom have pets and no pets, and I can't seem to see a pattern.

Could the environmental, cultural and ethnicity have a bigger impact on longevity than having a pet?

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There are some health benefits but the extent of these benefits is under some doubt. I can find no research into whether this lengthens human life.

The CDC say

Pets can decrease your:

  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol levels
  • Triglyceride levels
  • Feelings of loneliness

Pets can increase your:

  • Opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities
  • Opportunities for socialization

In Pet ownership and human health: a brief review of evidence and issues the BMJ say:

Similarly, recent research has failed to support earlier findings that pet ownership is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, a reduced use of general practitioner services, or any psychological or physical benefits on health for community dwelling older people. Research has, however, pointed to significantly less absenteeism from school through sickness among children who live with pets.

  • I didn't find the CDC page terribly convincing. They seem to have jumped from correlation to causation. The NIH link they provide is much more circumspect about the state of research. – Oddthinking Nov 10 '14 at 0:09
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It is generally accepted that often being sick or being predisposed to sickness will lead to a shorter life span and that those who have a bolstered immune system will fair better in the long run. You will live longer if you stay healthy. Environment, culture and ethnicity are likely much larger factors in longevity than pets. For whatever correlative reason however, statistics do show a slight increase in the level of health for individuals who have owned pets.

“We think the exposure to pets somehow matures the immune system so when the child meets the microbes, he might be better prepared for them,” says Dr. Eija Bergroth, a pediatrician at Kuopio University Hospital in Finland who led current study.

[...]

Kids with dogs fared better than those with cats: Overall, babies who lived with a dog were 31% more likely to be healthy in their first year than babies without a dog; kids from homes with cats were 6% more likely to be healthy than those in cat-free families. -Study: Why Dogs and Cats Make Babies Healthier, healthland.time.com


NCBI, Cat ownership and the Risk of Fatal Cardiovascular Diseases. -Adnan I Qureshi, MD, Muhammad Zeeshan Memon, MD, Gabriela Vazquez, PhD, MS, and M Fareed K Suri, MD

The data regarding pet ownership and physical health has not been consistent. Friedmann et al.3 demonstrated that pet owners with medical heart conditions had a higher survival after 1 year of follow-up. A post-hoc analysis of Cardiac Arrhythmia Suppression Trial,4 again demonstrated lower mortality at 1 year after recruitment with pet ownership. However, there is paucity of data regarding this relationship derived from general population with almost no study addressing the risk of stroke. We performed this study to determine the effect of pet ownership on fatal cardiovascular events in a nationally representative cohort of persons followed for mean period of 13.4±3.6 years.

[...]

... Age, cholesterol, race/ethnicity and cigarette smoking were associated with cat ownership. Same characteristics in addition to gender and systolic blood pressure were associated with dog ownership. After adjustment for potential confounders, a significantly lower RR for death due to MI was observed in participants with past cat ownership (RR, 0.63; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.44 to 0.88) compared with those without cats as pet at any time (see Table 3).

[...]

We found an independent association between cat ownership and risk of fatal MI [heart attacks] in the present cohort study. The protective effect may be related to a spontaneous relaxing effect with buffering effect on autonomic reactivity to acute stressors, and/or classical conditioning of relaxing response.1, 6, 7 We cannot exclude that this effect may be an indirect effect i.e. personalities of cat owners may have traits that are protective towards cardiovascular diseases independent of cat ownership. The study did not allow us to quantitate cat exposure in terms of years, intensity of physical interaction, and nature of interaction (tactile or visual). We only found the relationship between past cat ownership and fatal cardiovascular events. It is possible that cat ownership at an early age in life may be more protective than at a later age when sub clinical cardiovascular disease has already occurred.

J Vasc Interv Neurol. Jan 2009; 2(1): 132–135.

  • Correlation isn't causation. It is easy to imagine confounding factors: asthma, stable homes, caring parents, etc. – Oddthinking Nov 10 '14 at 0:12
  • It's hard to scientifically prove something that can't be; there is no possibility of a control group while observing a single being. We can merely correlate data and try to make some sense out of it. People who drink a glass of red wine once a day live longer -It's not the wine; it's the kind of person who does. Someone who 'cares'... enough to not over indulge and who can afford expensive drinks. – Mazura Nov 10 '14 at 0:58
  • If you can't support it, why are you claiming it? The effects of owning a pet are unproven. – Oddthinking Nov 10 '14 at 3:19
  • No decent human being will ever prove this; ... Josef Mengele – Mazura Nov 10 '14 at 4:35
  • We seem to be at cross-purposes. We both agree the science isn't there - for good reasons. But you are continuing to make the claim in the answer. Please remove the sections that talk about the "effects of pets", "pets will keep you alive", "effects of owning a pet" because you have no references to support them. – Oddthinking Nov 10 '14 at 8:34

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