Owning a Dog is Linked to Lower Risk of Death
Research published in Scientific Reports has found that owning a dog may reduce your risk of early death and cardiovascular disease — particularly if you live alone. The study is the latest in an expanding body of evidence that suggests keeping company with canines offers many health benefits.
Scientists at Uppsala University in Sweden followed 3.4 million people between the ages of 40 and 80 who had no history of cardiovascular disease at the study’s onset. Throughout a 12-year period, the research team reviewed health records and monitored which individuals registered as dog owners. (In Sweden, dog ownership registries are mandatory.)
You and your pet have a lot in common when it comes to staying comfortable and guarding against the painful impact of aging.
So if you want to take one big step to help your dog or cat stay healthy, active and playful as the years go by, then please don’t ignore the problem of inflammation.
Dog Ownership Reduced Risk of Death in Singles by One-Third
Among people living alone, owning a dog reduced the risk of death from general causes by 33 percent and the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 36 percent, compared to single people who didn’t have a dog. In addition, their likelihood of suffering a heart attack was 11-percent less.
Dog owners who lived in a multi-person household also received benefits, albeit to a lesser extent. Their risk of death from general causes was 11-percent lower, and their risk of death from cardiovascular disease was 15-percent lower. Owning a dog didn’t appear to decrease their likelihood of a heart attack.
“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,” said Mwenya Mubanga, lead junior author of the study and Ph.D. student at the Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala University.
Hunting dogs like terriers, retrievers and scent hounds offered the most protection from heart disease and death. However owning any breed of dog proved healthful.
Why Does Dog Ownership Provide Health Advantages?
The researchers speculated that the benefits could stem from the increased exercise, along with boosted social wellbeing and immunity that come with having a dog. Moreover, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pets can help lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides.
“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 wellbeing and social contacts or effects of the dog on the bacterial microbiome in the owner,” said 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.
Because dogs need to be walked in all kinds of weather, the increased exercise is invaluable for the owners. Furthermore, since dogs track dirt into the house, they expose their owners to a greater variety of bacterial strains, which can improve the health of the gut microbiome, thereby boosting your immune system.
Yet the effects of the enormous emotional support that dogs lavish on their owners can’t be underestimated. Their unconditional love, acceptance and devotion provide comfort and elevate mood, as well as help offset stress and loneliness. Studies on the mind-body connection show that positive emotions enhance health, while negative emotions impair health. As canine companionship produces positive feelings and reduces negative ones, the logical conclusion is that it fosters physical wellness above and beyond the benefits stemming from increased exercise and immunity.
Dr. Katy Nelson is the mother of five – two human and three animal – kids, an avid nutrition and fitness enthusiast, and an admittedly rabid Louisiana sports fan. She is an associate veterinarian at the Belle Haven Animal Medical Centre in Alexandria, VA., as well as the host and executive producer of “The Pet Show with Dr. Katy” on Washington DC’s News Channel 8. A Certified Veterinary Journalist (CVJ) accredited by the American Society of Veterinary Journalists (ASVJ), Dr. Katy is the Animal Health Reporter for ABC7 News, and serves as “Dr. Pawz” on WTOP Radio. Dr. Katy is also a founding partner of PetsMove.org, a national health and fitness initiative aimed at getting people healthy alongside their dogs, and serves as a media and marketing consultant for numerous pet-related companies and media outlets.
A lover of all animals, Dr. Katy carves out time for many charitable organizations in the DC area and beyond. She is also the co-executive producer on “Tell Them I Am Kind,” a documentary set to air on the PBS Broadcasting network in 2015. The documentary tells the story of the family of Catherine Violet Hubbard, one of the 20 children killed in December of 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and their mission to build an animal sanctuary in her honor.