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Pets, especially cats, are good for the heart

A study found cat owners were more likely to survive a heart attack than those who never owned cats.

Q. A recent Tamed/Untamed column addressed the health effects of owning a pet. What pet is best for a heart attack?

MARK, Methuen

A. First, we should mention that, of course, nobody is recommending that you dart out to adopt a pet like you would rush to the drug store to pick up a prescription. Although one day doctors may write a script for a visit from a licensed pet therapist — the cost of which might then be covered by insurance — actually owning a pet is a serious responsibility that shouldn’t be entered into lightly.

That said, although health benefits have been found from associating with animals ranging from fish to horses, a recent review of 200 articles in the scientific literature found that most studies focused on dogs. Dogs are both the most common pets and the usual therapy animals. Owning a dog, petting a dog, reading to a dog, or visiting with a dog basically improves human life in every way, from lowering blood pressure to reducing stress hormones.


A large and lengthy study published in 2009 in the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology was unusual in that it focused specifically on the effect of cat ownership on heart attack and stroke victims. The study followed 14,404 people for 20 years, and found that both past and current cat owners were significantly more likely to survive a heart attack than those who never owned cats.

However, as we carefully read your letter, we realize that possibly we misunderstood your question. If you are asking what pet is best for giving someone a heart attack, a large snake or perhaps a tarantula could do the trick.

Q. I liked the lion column, because I’m very interested in lions but I was told they are going extinct. Do you know good sources of information about lions in general?

SALLY, New Hampshire

A. Two splendid sources of information on lions are “The Behavior Guide to African Mammals” by Richard Despard Estes (University of California Press, 1991) and “The Serengeti Lion: A Study of Predator-Prey Relations” by George B. Schaller (University of Chicago Press, 1972).

Yes, it’s true that lions are threatened. It’s our understanding that the governments of some countries where lions exist are making efforts to protect them because lions are popular tourist attractions. May this always be so.


On the other hand, lions are also the favored victims of ignorant rich people from Europe, the US, and elsewhere, who feel they’ve done something manly and heroic by murdering a lion. Ernest Hemingway’s famous story “The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber” illustrates this. In the story, a lion is killed in a brutally tortured manner, and the next day Macomber is shot by his wife. She didn’t want to avenge the lion — she pretended it was an accident because she saw a chance to get rid of him. That’s the good part.

The following question was verbal, asked of Sy and passed on to Liz. The questioner was none other than Richard D. Estes, mentioned above, who wanted to know the source of Liz’s statement in her column “Fear of the Dark” that a lion can run at 50 miles an hour.

A. Liz got her information from the Internet which, as we all know, is not always reliable. A better source would have been “The Behavior Guide of African Mammals,” mentioned above, which says that the maximum speed for a lion is 48 to 59 kilometers an hour. That’s approximately 29.8 to 36.7 miles an hour. Even so, that’s much faster than a person can run, which was her point.

Luckily, she wasn’t drawing from her own experience, having once been charged by a lioness. She was standing beside a vehicle so she jumped in and lived to write the column. In her opinion, lions are faster than the speed of light.


Q. My boyfriend, Dan, doesn’t want me to keep Tracker, my dog. The dog barks ferociously when we are together even if he is kept in a separate room and given a marrow bone. My mother would take Tracker, but he’s been with me for four years and I love him so I’d hate to give him up. What should I do? Am desperately seeking answers.

SUSAN, New Hampshire

A. We are normally reluctant to recommend euthanasia, but in this case it may be warranted. One way or another, the relationship with your boyfriend has got to go!

Sy Montgomery and Elizabeth Marshall Thomas are naturalists and the authors of many books. Submit your questions about animals to