Protect yourself against risk of early death: Get a dog

Aside from making pet owners more active, it looks like taking care of dogs can help lower the risk of early death.

An estimated 3.4 million people who didn’t have a history of cardiovascular disease in 2001 were included in the study of Swedish researchers that cross-referenced seven different national data sources. The scientists also looked into two dog ownership registers. The study wanted to confirm if dog owners had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and death compared to non-dog owners.

Mwenya Mubanga, lead junior author of the study and Ph.D. student at the Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala Universitysaid, “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 to dogs from breed groups originally bred for hunting were most protected.”

In Sweden, each individual is issued a unique personal identity number. Whenever they visit the hospital, it is recorded in national databases. After de-identification of the data to protect the privacy of the dog owners, the researchers collated the data needed for the study.

Dog ownership registration has also been mandatory in the country since 2001. The scientists then studied if each person registered as a dog-owner was later diagnosed with cardiovascular disease or suffered from “death by any cause.”

Tove Fall, the senior author of the study and Associate Professor in Epidemiology at the Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala University, said that while their epidemiological study can identify associations in large populations, it still doesn’t offer solid answers on how canines can protect their owners from cardiovascular disease.

She added that they have confirmed that dog owners in general are often more active, and this could have been a contributing factor in the results of their study. Other possible reasons could be “increased well-being and social contacts or effects of the dog on the bacterial microbiome in the owner.” (Related: Pet dogs go out of their way to comfort humans they sense are sick or depressed.)

Fall also said that it is possible that there are already crucial differences between dog owners and non-owners before they get their dogs, which might have some bearing on the outcome of the study. For example, some people who get a dog could be “more active and of better health.”

She concluded that with the help of the population-based design, the results of their study where “generali[z]able to the Swedish population, and probably also to other European populations with similar culture regarding dog ownership.”

Benefits of dog ownership

Aside from having a loyal companion, owning a dog offers these benefits:

  • Relieves stress — Animals, especially dogs, are often used to help individuals keep their stress levels in check.
  • Encourages owners to be more active — Because dogs need regular exercise, their owners also become more active.
  • Improves heart health — Pet owners have healthier hearts, and this can also be due to their more active lifestyle.
  • Fights allergies — Growing up with pets can help boost your immune system and help you “build immunity against pet allergens and bacteria.”

You can read more articles about dogs and the benefits of keeping pets at

Sources include:

comments powered by Disqus