Dog ownership linked to lower risk of heart disease

Janie Parker
November 18, 2017

The study-with a sample size hundreds of times larger than any other studies on this topic-was not created to show a cause-and-effect relationship between dog ownership and reduced risk of death or cardiovascular disease, or to determine why these factors may be related.

The link between dog ownership and lower mortality was less pronounced in adults who lived either with family members or partners, but still present, according to the study.

The findings, published Friday in the journal Scientific Reports, are based on data from more than 3.4 million Swedes between the ages of 40 and 80.

Is owning a dog connected to better health?

A dog can decrease the risk of death by 33 percent and the risk of cardiovascular-related death by 36 percent for people who live alone versus singles without a pet. Especially for single people, "you have a different relationship" with your pet, Fall noted; it's something she felt herself.

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Fall, who owns a five-month-old puppy, and her colleagues were even able to pin down which dog breeds had the strongest association with reduced risk.

One factor behind this may be because dogs bring dirt into homes and they lick you, which could impact your microbiome - the bacteria that live in your gut - and thus your health. In Sweden, every visit to a hospital is recorded in national databases - while dog ownership registration has been mandatory since 2001. Dogs can alleviate psychosocial stress, depression and loneliness, according to the study, all of which are stressors that can encourage coronary heart disease, cardiovascular death and all-cause mortality. "Another interesting finding was that owners [of] dogs from breed groups originally bred for hunting were most protected".

"There might ... be differences between [dog] owners and non-owners already before buying a dog, which could have influenced our results, such as those people choosing to get a dog tending to be more active and of better health", Tove Fall, senior study author and associate professor of epidemiology at Uppsala University, said in the statement. As a result, the researchers posit, dog owners went out more and had added more social interaction than those without dogs. Whereas many studies about the health benefits of a given intervention, be it diet or lifestyle or animal companion, are limited to correlation-meaning, the two things are linked but without proof of one causing the other-Fall is ready to make that jump.

In addition, the researchers were hesitant to assert conclusively that the habits surrounding dog ownership lead to health. They also probably apply to the United States, she says.

Scientists said the companionship was key, along with the physical activity in taking it for a walk.

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