There are health benefits to having a dog, based on results from studies and testimonials from dog owners. Now a study of millions of Swedes found that dog ownership is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in single-person households and a lower risk of death from cardiovascular or other causes ("all cause mortality") in general. Owning a hunting dog breed had the strongest association with cardiovascular health. Some of these health benefits are due to dogs providing companionship, affection, and increased physical activity (all those walks) of their owners. And of course there's sharing of microbes. From Science Daily:
A team of Swedish scientists have used national registries of more than 3.4 million Swedes aged 40 to 80 to study the association between dog ownership and cardiovascular health. Their study shows that dog owners had a lower risk of death due to cardiovascular disease or to other causes during the 12-year follow-up. A total of more than 3.4 million individuals without any prior cardiovascular disease in 2001 were included in the researchers' study linking together seven different national data sources, including two dog ownership registers.
"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," says Mwenya Mubanga, lead junior author of the study and PhD student at the Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala University.
"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," says 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. "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." [Original study.]