Researchers suggest that people who own cats have a lower risk of dying from a heart attack or other cardiovascular disease, including stroke.

by Ed Susman, Contributing Writer, MedPage Today 

Press Release: New Orleans, LA, Feb. 21
 — People who own cats have a lower risk of dying from a heart attack or other cardiovascular disease, including stroke, researchers suggested here.

“We found that people who do not own cats have a 40% higher risk of dying from a myocardial infarction than people who do keep cats as pets,” said Adnan Qureshi, M.D., of the Minnesota Stroke Institute in Minneapolis, told attendees at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference.

A decreased risk for death from all cardiovascular diseases (including stroke) was observed among persons with cats, but the decrease was significant only for MI, Dr. Qureshi and colleagues concluded.

“We did not find a significant difference between people who owned dogs or other pets,” Dr. Qureshi said.

Dr. Qureshi and colleagues scrutinized records of the second National Health and Nutrition Examination Study (NHANES II), identifying 4,435 patients between the ages of 35 and 70 who were asymptomatic for coronary cardiovascular disease at baseline. About 55% of those individuals owned cats.

The researchers performed multivariate analyses on risk factors for heart disease in these patients, adjusting for differences in age, gender, ethnicity/race, systolic blood pressure, cigarette smoking, diabetes mellitus, serum cholesterol and body mass index.

After those adjustments, they found a significantly higher relative risk for death due to MI in people who did not keep cats (RR 1.4; 95% CI 1.1 to 1.7) compared with those with cats as a pet at any time, Dr. Qureshi said.

The researchers also noted a trend for increased risk for death from all cardiovascular diseases among people who did not own cats (RR 1.3; 95% CI, 1.0 to 1.6).

Dr. Qureshi said that it was possible that cats, more than dogs or other pets, reduce stress and anxiety, which have been linked to coronary disease and heart attacks. “Cats also tend to live longer with individuals than dogs,” he said.

If the findings can be substantiated, cat ownership might be considered as a cost-effective intervention in reducing heart attacks and possibly other forms of cardiovascular disease such as stroke for high-risk individuals, Dr. Qureshi said.

“Pets in general seem to have a protective effect against cardiovascular disease,” said Edgar Kenton, M.D., of Emory Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta and a discussant at the presentation.

“Cats are, by and large, easier to care for and more manageable, especially among older persons,” he said. “Cats also tend to help build a person’s self-esteem, which could be diminished by risk factors for heart attacks such as obesity, lessened mobility or injury. We know that cats are helpful in rehabilitation from injuries and illnesses such as stroke.”

Dr. Qureshi and Dr. Kenton did not disclose any financial conflicts of interest.

Published: February 21, 2008

Reviewed by Zalman S. Agus, MD; Emeritus Professor, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine 

Primary source: American Stroke Association/International Stroke Conference

Source reference: 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.” ASA Meeting 2008.

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