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Dr Dog

On a day-to-day, and more personal, level there are many ‘bona fido’ health benefits from spending time with dogs.

The benefits of having dogs in your domain are many and varied. Companionship through to physical fitness are just two of the blessings that can accrue value to life and wellbeing.

However, will having a canine in your world have any influence on your mortality? Surprisingly, or not, there is new evidence saying it just might, based on a study Dog ownership and the risk of cardiovascular disease and death – a nationwide cohort study (M Mubanga, 2017).

Swedes have a reputation for being meticulous in their recording of what might seem arcane information. Yet digging deeper into their data has added to the growing body of medical evidence to consider bringing a dog into your house for strong medicinal reasons.

Among the records kept by the Swedish government on its citizens are dog ownership, the number of individuals in a household, and cause of death.

This admixture of indices delivered a unique opportunity to examine the association of dog ownership on mortality in over 3 million adults (13% of whom owned dogs). Another variable was how living alone, or in a multi-person household, might influence this relationship.

Earlier studies suggest a positive benefit of dog ownership on physical fitness (Going to the Dogs: How owning a dog can improve older adults’ health: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health). In addition, and in light of cardiovascular disease being the leading cause of death worldwide, the researchers further examined whether dog ownership was associated with deaths from cardiovascular disease specifically.

Paws to reflect

Their analysis revealed that dog owners showed a 20% reduction in risk of death from all causes and a 23% reduction from cardiovascular disease compared to non-owners.

This association remained when education and socioeconomic status were statistically taken into account, and did not differ according to sex.
The researchers also looked at the impact of age attained by participants and found that the reduction in risk of mortality was largest among those who passed away between ages 70 to 90.

The most dramatic finding was the difference between dog owners who lived alone compared to those living with others. Those living alone had a 33% reduction in overall risk, while those in multi-person households had only an 11% risk reduction.

Researchers indicated that there might be alternative explanations (such as household members’ varying degrees of attachment to or participation with the dog). This large risk discrepancy, however, suggests the social companionship of having a dog could have significant survival benefits for those living alone. Says study co-author and PhD Mwenya Mubanga:

“A very interesting finding in our study was that dog ownership was especially prominent as a protective factor in persons living alone. This is a group reported previously to be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death than those living in a multi-person household.”