The study, which is the largest to date on the health implications of owning a dog, suggested that some of the reasons dog owners may have a lower risk of mortality and cardiovascular disease were because dog owners walk more.
The Swedish scientists analyzed seven national data registries in Sweden, including two dog ownership registers, to study the association between owning a dog and cardiovascular health.
"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". "I got my first dog when I was single and she was my best friend", she says. In the study, Fall analysed the effects of different breeds and found that owners of dogs originally bred for hunting, such as terriers, retrievers, and scent hounds, had the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease.
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"As a veterinarian I heard many stories on that vast impact a dog can have on their owner's well-being and also on their physical activity levels", she said.
"We know that dog owners in general have a higher level of physical activity, which could be one explanation to the observed results", Tove said.
Researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden have posited the theory that this is due to the fact that dogs have the ability to change their owner's bacterial microbiome by exposing them to bacteria they had not yet encountered. Risk of death among these dog owners fell by 11% and their chances of cardiovascular death were 15% lower. It's possible that dog owners are healthier and more active before they get a canine companion, she said. Dogs have also been proven to lower stress and blood pressure, as well as potentially boosting the owner's immune system and reducing the chances of allergies and asthma in children.
Owning a pet dog may be particularly beneficial for people who live alone, the study found.
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In addition, the study was done in Sweden, so the results may not apply to other populations.
To better understand the influence of pets on humans' heart health, the researchers compared the population data to records of dog ownership during that same 12-year period.
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.
The exact reasons behind the results aren't clear: it could be that people who own dogs live longer because they're more physically active, or are less stressed, Fall tells The Verge.
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