There is a quote by Roger Karas that says, "Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole" and many dog owners would agree. New research from a team at Uppsala University in Sweden suggests that dogs are even responsible for making their owners' lives longer and healthier.
Using data from nearly three and a half million Swedish citizens aged 40 to 80, the researchers wanted to study the relationship between dog ownership and cardiovascular disease.
The study was long-term and covered several sets of data. Starting in 2001, the team identified 3.4 million subjects. They got the information from several sources, two of which were registries of dog owners. The results of the study were published recently in the journal Scientific Reports, and the case for dog ownership is strong, especially regarding health and risk reduction for people who live alone.
Mwenya Mubanga was the lead junior author of the study and is also a Ph.D. Student at the Department of Medical Sciences at the university. Mubanga explained, "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 percent reduction in risk of death and 11 percent reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease during follow-up compared to single non-owners. Another interesting finding was that owners of dogs from breed groups originally bred for hunting were most protected."
While the amount of data was immense, the laws in Sweden make these kinds of large studies possible. Swedes are required to have a personal identity number. Every time a person goes to a hospital or is seen by a doctor, the number is logged in a database with all the medical details of the visit. The database is scrubbed of any personal identifying information, and the medical information that is indexed in the database is available to researchers for studies like this. In 2001, citizens were required to register their dogs as well. The combined information on dog ownership and health records was perfect for the investigators to see if owning a dog could have a medical benefit.
The senior author of the study, Tove Fall, who is an associate professor of epidemiology at Uppsala explained that there could be factors other than just owning a dog that were responsible for the findings. She stated, "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." Even before getting a dog, factors in a person's life might have impacted the results, since most people who consider getting a dog tend to be more physically active and healthier already.
Whatever the cause, it's one more reason to think about adding a dog to your family. Many breeds are non-shedding and hypoallergenic. The video below has more information on the study.