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Study says dog owners live longer, healthier lives

18 November 2017

Here's to keeping your health on a tight leash: New research suggests that having a dog might boost a single person's life span.

"Previous findings on dog ownership and the risk of CVD are conflicting", Fall et al. wrote.

They found that dog owners had a lower risk of death due to cardiovascular disease than people who did not report owning a dog, as well as a lower risk of death from other causes. "As a pet owner, I also notice that the people I meet during walks are often other dog owners, especially in bad weather". In households with more people under the same roof, dogs had less of a positive impact, but still lowered deaths from heart disease by 15%, the work reveals.

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As a single dog owner, an individual is the sole person walking and interacting with their pet as opposed to married couples or households with children, which may contribute to greater protection from cardiovascular disease and death, said the study. They focused on 3.4 million people who had no history of cardiovascular disease in 2001, and followed their health records-as well as whether they registered as a dog owner-for about 12 years.

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

The decrease was strongest in people who lived alone. Especially for single people, "you have a different relationship" with your pet, Fall noted; it's something she felt herself. Chances of a heart attack were also found to be 11% lower. The team was able to correlate dog ownership with health outcomes over the years, including heart risk and mortality. "Other explanations include an increased well-being and social contacts or effects of the dog on the bacterial microbiome in the owner", says 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. Whereas many studies about the health benefits of a given intervention, be it diet or lifestyle or animal companion, are limited to correlation-meaning, the two things are linked but without proof of one causing the other-Fall is ready to make that jump.

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.

While Bond may not prescribe a dog as treatment for a patient, she said that she will not discourage owning or buying one, or expressing the benefits of owning one.

Study says dog owners live longer, healthier lives