Dogs are well known as man’s best friend, but now they may be known as life extenders as well. Owning a dog has now been linked to a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease and death, according to a Swedish study published earlier this week. The findings of the study were published in the journal Scientific Reports.
When compared to single individuals without a pet, dog owners reduced their risk of death by 33 percent and their risk of cardiovascular related death by 36 percent. Dog owners living with at least one other person also had a reduced risk of death, but to a lesser degree at 11 percent and 15 percent respectively. For single people, the risk of a heart attack was reduced by 11 percent, but the same was not seen for owners living with others.
The study followed more than 3.4 million Swedish individuals between the ages of 40 and 80 over a 12-year study period. The study did not include patients with heart disease in general or separate out those that were disabled. Owners of hunting breeds, including terriers, retrievers, and scent hounds, were found to have reduced their risks of death the most. However, owning any dog will provide some benefits.
Mwenya Mubanga, an author on the study and PhD student at Uppsala University, said, “A very interesting finding in our study was that dog ownership was especially prominent as a protective factor in persons living alone, which is a group reported previously to be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death than those living in a multi-person household.”
While their study provides strong evidence for the health benefits of dogs, it does not pinpoint why those benefits occur. It is unclear whether the benefits are related to the actions necessary for properly caring for a dog, such as regular walking and other physical activities. The benefits may also stem from increased social well-being and immune system development related to dog ownership. Having a dog may also reduce their owners’ stress levels, which has been found to be a primary cause for cardiovascular disease and cardiac events.