You know how they say “a dog is man’s best friend.” A group of Swedish scientists conducted research and used national registries from more than 3.4 million Swedes aged 40 to 80 in order to discover whether there is a connection between dog ownership and cardiovascular health. So, is owning a dog connected to better health?
In short, the scientists found that dog owners had a lower risk of death from cardiovascular diseases or many other causes during 12 years of follow-up. Here’s what else they found and details on how they conducted their study.
Is owning a dog connected to better health?
The scientists included more than 3.4 million individuals who didn’t have any cardiovascular diseases before 2001 after linking together seven different national data sources, including two dog ownership registers. The results of the study were published for the first time in Scientific Reports. The aim was to determine if owning a dog connected to better health, specifically, less risk of cardiovascular diseases result in death compared to those who don’t own a dog
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“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. The results showed that single dog owners had a 33 percent reduction in risk of death and 11 percent reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease during follow-up compared to single non-owners. Another interesting finding was that owners to dogs from breed groups originally bred for hunting were most protected,” explains Mwenya Mubanga, lead junior author of the study and Ph.D. student at the Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory at Uppsala University (as cited in an article by the university posted on the Laboratory Equipment website).
Healthcare in Sweden is on an extremely high level. Every person has been given a unique personal identity number, which is recorded with every visit to the hospital in national databases. After identifications were removed from the data, scientists and researchers can access the databases for research purposes.
“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,” added Tove Fall, senior author of the study and Associate Professor in Epidemiology at the Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala University.
Scientists added that there “might also be differences between owners and non-owners already before buying a dog, which could have influenced our results.” According to Tove Fall, one of the reasons could be that people who wanted to get a dog tend to be more physically active and in general good health. She also added that the research they conducted had a “population-based design,” which means that their results are “generalizable to the Swedish population, and probably also to other European populations with similar culture regarding dog ownership.”
What do you think? Is owning a dog connected to better health?