Swedish researchers have found a positive relationship between dog ownership and a lower risk of death due to cardiovascular diseases or to other causes. The association was particularly strong in the case of people living alone, suggesting the canine company does well to our health.
A reason to live
The team at Uppsala University analyzed national registries involving 3.4 million Swedes aged 40 to 80 without any prior cardiovascular diseases as of 2001. The dataset was linked to dog ownership registers, which later revealed dog owners had a different risk of cardiovascular disease and death than people who didn't own a pet dog.
According to the results, single dog owners had a 33% reduction in the risk of premature death and 11% reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease when compared to single non-owners.
An interesting finding, though purely correlative, was that dogs belonging to breeds originally selected for hunting offered the most protection, the authors reported in Scientific Reports.
"These kind of epidemiological studies look for associations in large populations but do not provide answers on whether and how dogs could protect from cardiovascular disease. We know that dog owners in general have a higher level of physical activity, which could be one explanation for the observed results. Other explanations include an increased well-being and social contacts or effects of the dog on the bacterial microbiome in the owner," says Tove Fall, senior author of the study and Associate Professor in Epidemiology at the Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala University.
Fall also adds that there may be slight differences between dog owners and non-owners well before any of the two groups were exposed to dogs, which could have influenced the results. For instance, people who choose to get a dog are generally more active in the first place and of better health. It's impressive, however, to see such a significant degree of protection from dogs in a dataset comprising millions of people, lending confidence of a strong statistical association.