Cats Help Shield Owners From Heart Attack

By E.J. Mundell
HealthDay Reporter
Thursday, February 21, 2008; 12:00 AM

THURSDAY, Feb. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Whether it's a frisky kitten or a tubby tabby, a cat at home could cut your heart attack risk by almost a third, a new study suggests.

The finding, from a 10-year study of more than 4,300 Americans, suggests that the stress relief pets provide humans is heart-healthy.

And dog lovers shouldn't feel left out: Although the study found no such benefit from "man's best friend," that's probably because there simply weren't enough dog owners in the study to draw firm conclusions, the researchers said.

"For years we have known that psychological stress and anxiety are related to cardiovascular events, particularly heart attacks," noted study senior author Dr. Adnan Qureshi, executive director of the Minnesota Stroke Institute at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

According to Qureshi, the new research shows that "essentially there is a benefit in relieving those inciting factors from pets."

He was slated to present the findings Thursday at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference in New Orleans.

The stress-cardiovascular disease link is well-documented in scientific literature, and the affection and pleasure pets give humans is a known stress-buster. In fact, one study presented in 2005 at an American Heart Association meeting found that a single 12-minute visit with a dog improved the heart and lung function of people with heart failure.

In the new study, Qureshi's team analyzed data on 4,435 Americans, aged 30 to 75, who took part in the federal government's second National Health and Nutrition Examination Study, which ran from 1976-1980. According to the data in the survey, 2,435 of the participants either owned a cat or had owned a cat in the past, while the remaining 2,000 had never done so.

Qureshi's team then tracked rates of death from all causes, including heart and stroke.

Cat owners "appeared to have a lower rate of dying from heart attacks" over 10 years of follow-up compared to feline-free folk, Qureshi said.

The magnitude of the effect -- a 30 percent reduction in heart attack risk -- "was a little bit surprising," he added. "We certainly expected an effect, because we thought that there was a biologically plausible mechanism at work. But the magnitude of the effect was hard to predict."

Qureshi -- proud owner of his own feline, Ninja -- stressed that dogs probably would bring people the same kind of benefit, but the numbers of dog owners in the study wasn't big enough to count statistically.


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