A study using Swedish national registries of more than 3.4 million Swedes aged 40 to 80 shows that dog owners had a lower risk of death due to cardiovascular disease or to other causes. The results may be explained by a higher level of physical activity among dog owners or effects of the dogs’ microbial flora on the owner. Also, owning a dog was found an especially prominent protective factor in persons living alone.
A total of more than 3.4 million individuals without any prior cardiovascular disease were included in the study with the goal to determine whether dog owners had a different risk of cardiovascular disease and death than people without dogs. The researchers linked 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% reduction in risk of death and 11% reduction in risk of myocardial infarction 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, PhD student (Uppsala University/SciLifeLab) and first author of the study.
“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 (Uppsala University/SciLifeLab) who led the study.
“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,” says Tove Fall.
Read the press release by Uppsala University
Read the full article in Scientific Reports
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