Dogs May Melt Your Heart, but They Also Make It Healthier


A group of academics from Uppsala University in Sweden analyzed the health records of 3.4 million people in that northern European country, where databases contain detailed information on most everyone's hospitalizations, medical history and even whether they own a dog.

A new study, published today in Scientific Reports, finds that dog ownership is linked to reduced risk of heart attack-and a longer life.

A new study out of Sweden used data from 3.4 million people in their national registries between the ages of 40 and 80 and found that those who had a dog had a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease than those who were dog-free. They were also 11% less likely to have a heart attack, an effect that is not shown among people who live with others and is nearly certainly attributable to our children's leftover french fries.

"This was one of the most interesting findings: we see that dogs have a larger impact in households without other humans", Tove Fall, the study's senior author and an associate professor at Uppsala University, told The Local.

"Other explanations include an increased wellbeing and social contacts or effects of the dog on the bacterial microbiome (gut bacteria) in the owner". So, is owning a dog connected to better health?

Hunting breeds such as Golden Retrievers, Irish Setters and Beagles achieved the best results.

Having a dog can bring a lot of love into your life.

"Perhaps a dog may stand in as an important family member in the single households".

As well as offering companionship and boosting non-human interactions, dogs also encourage their owners to exercise via walks, the researchers add.

"However, as many dog owners may agree, the main reason for owning a dog is the sheer joy".

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While some previous studies have shown similar positive effects for pet ownership generally, others have shown the opposite effect.

"We can not infer a causal relationship, however, dog ownership is associated with increased physical activity, improved psycho-social wellbeing and socialisation, all of which are associated with reduced CVD mortality- so it is plausible the effect is mediated though these mechanisms". It's thought a dog may influence its owner's microbiomes as dogs change the dirt in home environments, exposing people to bacteria they may not have encountered otherwise.