Good news for animal lovers: having a dog can actually lower your risk of dying from certain diseases.
A study published in Scientific Reports on November 17, 2017, examined 3.4 million Swedish individuals between the ages of 40 and 80. The team looked at data from 2001 to 2012. According to BBC, Sweden records every hospital visit in national databases. Additionally, dog ownership registration has been mandatory since 2001, so researchers were able to compare the overlap between hospitalizations and owning a dog.
The study found that, for people living alone, owning a dog was associated with a decrease in the risk of death by 33% and cardiovascular-disease-related death by 36%, compared with single individuals who live without a pet.
Chances of a heart attack were lowered by 11% for single people with a dog. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide.
Multi-person households also benefited from canine companionship, but to a lesser degree. Mortality rates among this group fell by 11%, and their chances of cardiovascular-disease-related death were 15% lower.
Mwenya Mubanga, an author on the study and PhD student at Uppsala University, explained the significance of these results: “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 households.”
Owners who have a dog originally bred for hunting (including terriers, retrievers, and scent hounds) found the most protection from cardiovascular disease and death, but having any dog will reduce the owner’s risk of death to some degree, according to the study.
The study didn’t come up with a definitive reason why, exactly, owning a dog is associated with such a dramatically decreased mortality rate, though the researchers had a few potential ideas.
Owning a dog may help increase physical activity, especially in single people who are wholly responsible for exercising the dog. Increasing social contact could also be a factor. Another may be the boosted immune system development associated with dogs bringing dirt into the home and licking you, impacting the bacteria that live in your gut by introducing new strains you otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to.
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Thumbnail Photo: Flickr / jive667
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