As if we needed another reason to love our doggos. Turns out, they could actually be our best way to avoid an early death.
People who own dogs, particularly ones bred for hunting like terriers, retrievers, and scent hounds stand to have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) compared to people who don't own canines.
A new study from Uppsala University in Sweden, published in Scientific Reports, analyzed Sweden's national registries and compared them to dog ownership registers to look at the association between dog ownership and cardiovascular health. The study involved 3.4 million Swedes ages 40 to 80.
While Canada has no mandatory national dog registry for dog owners (although most dog owners must get a pet licence with their city), since 2001, Sweden has made it mandatory for people to register the dogs they own.
Researchers analyzed all that data and compared it to the national hospital registry from specific age groups from 2001 to 2012.
To explain why some dog owners might have better cardiovascular health than non-dog owners, researchers suggested that people who own dogs are more likely to partake in physical exercise than those without — specifically, people who are already active are more likely to own a dog.
Dogs can protect us from disease
Tove Fall, a senior author of the study, noted that having dogs around can boost their owners' bacterial microbiome, which can help protect them from cardiovascular disease.
When dogs roll around in dirt in the yard or during walks, they expose their owners to new bacteria when they enter the home — bacteria that researchers think change people's microbiomes, a collection of microbes that contain bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
A previous study from the University of Alberta showed that babies who grew up with dogs can avoid both allergies and obesity as they grow older as they had higher levels of gut microbes that are associated with a lower risk of both.
"The abundance of these bacteria were increased twofold when there was a pet in the house," said Anita Kozyrskyj, according to the CBC.
If you're single, you might want to consider getting a doggo
Mwenya Mubanga, a lead author of the Swedish study, told BBC News that singles without dogs are missing out on some useful benefits.
Compared to non-dog owners, living alone with a furry pal can cut down your risk of death by 33 per cent and risk of heart attacks by 11 per cent.
This is particularly important since earlier research suggests that people in single-person households actually have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
The Swedish university researchers mentioned that this is the largest investigation connecting dogs with cardiovascular disease, however similar studies have drawn associations between the two before.
Today.com pointed out that a 2003 study from the American Heart Association concluded "pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, is probably associated with decreased CVD risk."
Benefits for seniors
When it comes to the elderly, other studies have shown the health benefits of owning dogs — quite literally, having a dog can keep the doctor away.
Last year, the University of Missouri found that seniors who owned a dog saw increased social benefits, greater likelihood of physical activity and fewer trips to the doc.
Rebecca Johnson, a professor at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine told CTV that the study could encourage doctors to see that owning dogs "can be translated into reduced health care expenditures for the aging population."
The Swedish study echoes a 2006 study which looked at British Columbians, and found that dog owners were more physically active than non-dog owners.
It further suggested that people who needed more physical activity should get dogs.
Dog-walking is also one of the ways to ensure that people reach the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology's recommendations that adults ages 18 to 64 should partake in at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week.