More than 3, 4 million people were part of a study related to dogs and their owners. The research, published in Scientific Reports, suggests that dogs can be good for health, especially for those who live alone.
Specialists at the University of Uppsala in Sweden reviewed the national registers of Swedish men and women, aged 40 to 80 years, to study the link between dogs and longevity. Dog ownership records are mandatory in Sweden, and each visit to a hospital is recorded in a national database.
In this way, they discovered that dog owners had a lower risk of death from cardiovascular diseases than people who did not report owning one, as well as a lower risk of death from other causes.
This was true even after adjusting factors such as smoking, body mass index and socioeconomic status. The protective effect was especially prominent for people living alone, who have been found to have a higher risk of premature death than those who live with other people.
Those who live alone with a canine companion have a 33% lower risk of death and 11% less risk of cardiovascular disease than people who live alone without a dog.
The study – with a sample size hundreds of times larger than any other study on this subject – was not designed to show a cause and effect relationship between having a dog and reducing the risk of death or cardiovascular disease. According to the authors, the people who choose to have this pet may simply be more active and have better health to begin with.}
But it is also possible – and very likely, says the lead author, Tove Fall, a veterinarian and associate professor of epidemiology – that caring for a dog encourages people to stay active and live a healthier lifestyle.
“I have met numerous owners who are convinced that their pet has been critical to them, often in terms of social support,” says Fall. “As a dog owner, I also realize that the people I meet during walks are usually other dog owners, especially when the weather is bad.”
Another possible explanation, he adds, could be the effect of a dog on its owner’s microbiome. Other studies have suggested that growing up with a dog at home can decrease allergies and asthma in children, and Fall says pets can also provide immune boosting benefits for adults.
Studies have also suggested that dog owners have a lower reactivity to stress and a more rapid recovery of blood pressure after stressful events.
The authors of the study were also surprised to discover that people who owned dogs that were originally bred for hunting, such as terriers, retrievers and hound dogs, were the most protected against heart disease and death. Because these dogs generally need more exercise than other breeds, their owners may be more likely to comply with physical activity guidelines, they say.
Scientists can not say that having a dog will definitely help a person live longer, but Fall believes it’s not a bad idea. “I think a pet brings a lot of joy and companionship to a house, so if a person has the ability to take care of it, it should,” he says. “There are numerous studies that show that dog owners get more physical activity, which could help prolong a healthy life.”
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