Having a pet dog can lower heart disease risk

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The study-with a sample size hundreds of times larger than any other studies on this topic-was not created to show a cause-and-effect relationship between dog ownership and reduced risk of death or cardiovascular disease, or to determine why these factors may be related.

Scientists researching a link between dog ownership and cardiovascular health found friendly pooches also lower risk of death from heart disease and other ailments.

Though dog owners overall saw these benefits, the effects were strongest among people who lived alone, who were 36% less likely to develop heart disease and 33% less likely to die than people living alone who don't own dogs.

Tove Fall, senior author of the study, said there were some limitations: "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. Lots of people think that nowadays we have poor diversity in microbiomes, and it might be that dogs have a positive effect on this by bringing in dirt and bacteria", Fall said. The team was able to correlate dog ownership with health outcomes over the years, including heart risk and mortality.

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

The findings emerge from a study of more than 3.4 million people in Sweden whose medical and pet ownership records were analysed to investigate the potential health benefits of dog ownership.

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That may be especially important for single folks, said study junior author Mwenya Mubanga, a graduate student at Uppsala. For starters, we do know that having a dog means (well, requires) a higher level of physical activity - basically acting as a furry personal trainer that ensures you get your steps in taking it on walks and refilling its food and water bowl.

Professor Fall added: "Dogs may be beneficial in reducing cardiovascular risk by providing a non human form of social support and increasing physical activity". All were free of heart disease at the beginning of the study.

Is owning a dog connected to better health?

But Fall does not believe that getting more exercise explains all, or even most, of the health effects that come with dog ownership.

Could having a pet reduce obesity and allergies in children? Studies have also suggested that dog owners have lower reactivity to stress and faster recovery of blood pressure following stressful events.

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