A team of Swedish scientists 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.
Mwenya Mubanga, of Uppsala University, is lead junior author of the study, wich was published November 7, 2017 in the journal Scientific Reports. Mubanga said in a statement:
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.
In Sweden, every person 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 in Sweden since 2001. These scientists studied whether being registered as a dog-owner was associated with later diagnosis of cardiovascular disease or death from any cause.
Tove Fall is senior author of the study and Associate Professor in Epidemiology at Uppsala University. She said:
These kinds 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.
Bottom Line: A Swedish study suggests a correlation between dog ownership in a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and other causes.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.