You could live longer if you had a dog

Tomas Mccoy
November 18, 2017

Meta-analyses have confirmed dog owners are more active-especially in poor weather-than non-owners, and the animals can act as social supports, improving an owner's perception of their well-being.

Your dog could be literally saving your life.

The study-with a sample size hundreds of times larger than any other studies on this topic-was not created to show a cause-and-effect relationship between dog ownership and reduced risk of death or cardiovascular disease, or to determine why these factors may be related. "If you have a dog you neutralise the effects of living alone".

The study tracked more than 3.4 million Swedes, middle-aged and older, for 12 years.

Although this particular study does not parse the mechanisms of how dogs help reduce the risk of heart disease, others have tried. Specifically, the research found there was a 33 percent reduction in risk of death and an 11 percent reduction in risk of having a heart attack during follow-up compared to people who lived alone who did not have a dog. Especially for single people, "you have a different relationship" with your pet, Fall noted; it's something she felt herself.

She added: "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".

Flickr  Paul L Dineen
Flickr Paul L Dineen

They were a third less likely to die during the study period.

The study couldn't prove cause-and-effect, but its lead researcher said there are many reasons why having a pooch might do a body good. Dog ownership registries are mandatory in Sweden, and every visit to a hospital is recorded in a national database.

The study authors were also surprised to find that people who owned dogs that were originally bred for hunting-like terriers, retrievers and scent hounds-were the most protected from heart disease and death.

Fall believes that while their study provides strong evidence for the health benefits of dogs, their work is not done yet, since it does not answer why dogs achieve these results or why specific breeds seems to offer more protection. After all, a dog must be walked, so dog owners walk more than non-dog owners. "The primary reason to adopt a dog or any other pet should be to give that dog or pet a loving home and to not do it just thinking that okay, I have a dog and now I'm going to be healthier". "In the Swedish system, we can trace people from birth to death", epidemiologist Tove Fall told Newsweek.

They're man's best friend - for the ages.

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