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Having a pet dog can lower heart disease risk

18 November 2017

The study notes that a much smaller Norwegian study of the same subject, undertaken with similar methods, didn't show a link between dog ownership and lower mortality. Single dog owners also had an 11 percent lower risk of suffering a heart attack. 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. While people who live alone are not necessarily lonely, many in the Swedish study seemed to benefit disproportionately from having a dog around.

There is a slightly lower benefit to owning a canine for those who don't live alone - the risk was cut by only 15 per cent. Researchers even considered other factors such as smoking and body weight to make sure the results were as accurate as possible.

A study released shows that a dog really is your best friend.

The findings, published Friday in the journal Scientific Reports, are based on data from more than 3.4 million Swedes between the ages of 40 and 80.

As well as offering companionship and boosting non-human interactions, dogs also encourage their owners to exercise via walks, the researchers add. We know that dog owners in general have a higher level of physical activity, which could be one explanation for the observed results.

The protective effect was especially prominent for people living alone, who have been found to have a higher risk for early death than those who live with other people. 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.

"These kind of epidemiological studies look for associations in large populations but do not provide answers on whether and how dogs could protect from cardiovascular disease", Tove Fall, a senior author of the study and a professor at Uppsala University, said in a statement.

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"Other explanations include an increased well-being and social contacts or effects of the dog on the bacterial microbiome in the owner".

But as it was an observational study it does not prove dogs prevent cardiovascular disease or how it may happen.

Owners of hunting breeds, such as retrievers, scent hounds and terriers, were the most protected from cardiovascular disease and death.

Experts in the United States agreed that the findings made sense.

Scientists can't say that getting a dog will definitely help a person live longer, but Fall believes it's not a bad idea.

Now, the results of this study don't mean that there's a causal relationship between owning a dog and living longer.

Having a pet dog can lower heart disease risk