Dog owners have lower blood pressure, are less likely to be obese and are on average 2.2lbs lighter than people without canine companions, scientists have discovered.
A study by the Mayo Clinic and Italian researchers, showed that people with dogs are far healthier than those with either no pets, or those who own a different animal.
Dog owners also earned more, exercised more, were more likely to be women and were less likely to have diabetes.
Overall, all pet owners had a better lifestyle than those who did not own an animal, but those with dogs were found to be the healthiest.
Dr Andrea Maugeri of the University of Catania in Italy, who led the study said: “In general, people who owned any pet were more likely to report more physical activity, better diet and blood sugar at ideal level.
“The greatest benefits from having a pet were for those who owned a dog, independent of their age, sex and education level.”
Around 45 per cent of Britons own an animal, an increase of five per cent since 2016, and dogs are the most popular with one in four people having a canine.
For the study, researchers looked at 1,769 people, of whom 42 per cent owned a pet. None had any history of heart disease and they were scored on body mass index (BMI), diet, physical activity, smoking status, blood pressure, blood glucose and total cholesterol.
Just 29 per cent of dog owners were obese, compared to 32 per cent of non-pet owners, and 37 per cent of non-dog owners. Dog owners weighed an average of 11.9 stone, compared to the 12.1 stone of those without a dog.
Out of a total score of 14 for overall heart health, people with dogs scored an average of 10 while those without scored just nine.
Heart and circulatory diseases cause more than a quarter of all deaths in the UK, 170,000 deaths each year and there are around 7.4 million people living with heart and circulatory disease in the UK - 3.9 million men and 3.5 million women.
The study is the first to show a link between pet ownership and a lower risk of heart problems.
Dr Maugeri said people should consider adopting, rescuing or purchasing a pet as a potential strategy to improve their cardiovascular health as long it led them to a more physically active lifestyle.
Senior investigator Dr Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, chair of the Division of Preventive Cardiology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said that having a dog may prompt owners to go out, move around and play with the animal regularly.
“Owning a dog also has been linked to better mental health in other studies and less perception of social isolation - both risk factors for heart attacks,” added Dr. Lopez-Jimenez.
The research was published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings: Innovations, Quality & Outcomes.