Dog owners have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and death than non-dog owners, according to the results of a new Swedish study published in the journal Scientific Reports.
In Sweden, everyone carries a unique personal identity number. Every visit to a hospital is recorded in national databases, accessible to researchers after de-identification of data. Even dog ownership registration has been mandatory since 2001.
The researchers used this information to examine the records of more than 3.4 million Swedes between the ages of 40 to 80 to study the association between dog ownership and cardiovascular health.
During the 12-year follow-up period they found that single dog owners had a 33 per cent reduction in risk of death and 11 per cent reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease.
Mwenya Mubanga, the study’s lead junior author, 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.’
‘Perhaps a dog may stand in as an important family member in the single households. Another interesting finding was that owners to dogs from breed groups originally bred for hunting were most protected.’
Tove Fall, the study’s senior author, said: ‘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 to 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.’
‘There might also be differences between 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. Thanks to the population-based design, our results are generalisable to the Swedish population, and probably also to other European populations with similar culture regarding dog ownership.’