Is Dog Ownership Connected To Better Health?

Lena Tucker
November 18, 2017

The results of the study were published for the first time in Scientific Reports.

The study, which is the largest to date on the health implications of owning a dog, suggested that some of the reasons dog owners may have a lower risk of mortality and cardiovascular disease were because dog owners walk more.

Researchers at Uppsala University reviewed data collected from 2001 to 2012 from seven different national registries, including the Swedish Agricultural Agency's dog owner's register and the Swedish Kennel Club's register, in addition to the Register of the Total Population, which contains information on birth, migration, changes of citizenship, civil status and death on all Swedish citizens and residents.

The study looked at previously self-reported data on almost 3.5 million Swedes between the ages of 40 and 80.

People living alone fared the best, as owning a dog decreased their risk of death by 33 percent and their likelihood of a cardiovascular-related death by 36 percent, when compared to single individuals who do not have a pet. But their risk of a heart attack was not reduced by owning a dog. Dog ownership has also been linked to elevated parasympathetic and diminished sympathetic nervous system activity, lower reactivity to stress and faster recovery of blood pressure after a stressful activity.

While the study stops short of determining a direct "causal effect" between dog ownership and lower heart disease, it indicates that dog owners may have better health because they stay active by walking their pets, even in bad weather.

Your dog could be literally saving your life.

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.

Another finding was that owners of dogs from breed groups originally bred for hunting were the ones most protected, so dogs in the retriever, terrier, and scent hound families are the ones that may provide the most benefit. "Our observational study can not provide evidence for a causal effect of dog ownership on cardiovascular disease or mortality", they write. "Thanks to the population-based design, our results are generalizable to the Swedish population, and probably also to other European populations with similar culture regarding dog ownership", Fall concluded in the statement. "The associations we see may be that dogs affect the owner's lifestyle and well-being positively", said Fall.

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