The heart-health benefits of being a dog parent were especially pronounced among people living alone (in this case, meaning without other humans), which, according to the study's authors, is a group reported previously to be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death than those living with other people. People who lived alone with a dog had a 33% reduced risk of death, and an 11% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, than people who lived alone without a dog.
Researchers also found the lowest rate of cardiovascular disease was among owners of hunting breeds, which isn't surprising when you think about the high-intensity workout they get when their dogs spot a squirrel.
The scientists included more than 3.4 million individuals who didn't have any cardiovascular diseases before 2001 after linking together seven different national data sources, including two dog ownership registers. "Other explanations include an increased well-being and social contacts or effects of the dog on the bacterial microbiome in the owner", added 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. But experts say dog owners do tend to be more active. That would be a tough study to pull off since you would have to take a random set of people, give some of them dogs, and see who died first. "Thanks to the population-based design, our results are generalizable to the Swedish population, and probably also to other European populations with similar culture regarding dog ownership", Fall concluded in the statement.
Wolf-Klein believes that whatever the reasons behind the health benefit shown in the study, adopting a furry companion from a nearby shelter might be just what the doctor ordered.
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While the research was carried out in Sweden, Fall does believe it may also apply to other countries, including the US, since popular breeds and people's attitudes toward dog care are similar.
Dog owners in multi-person households, on the other hand, had an 11 percent lower of death and their chances of a cardiovascular-related death were 15 percent lower.
Dog owners were more likely to be younger than non-owners, Fall and colleagues wrote, and were more likely to live in rural areas.
In addition, the researchers were hesitant to assert conclusively that the habits surrounding dog ownership lead to health.
Experts in the United States agreed that the findings made sense.