Your dog might just prolong your life

Single dog-owning adults who lived alone were 11 per cent less likely to subsequently develop heart disease and 33 per cent less likely to die than non-dog owners, an analysis of Sweden's health records found.
Single dog-owning adults who lived alone were 11 per cent less likely to subsequently develop heart disease and 33 per cent less likely to die than non-dog owners, an analysis of Sweden's health records found.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Having a dog can bring a lot of love into your life. It could also make it last a little longer.

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

Such detailed records made it relatively easy to suss out the impact of having a canine companion.

The results were heart-warming.

People in possession of a pooch were less likely to have cardiovascular disease or die from any cause during the 12 years covered by the study, according to the research published in Scientific Reports.

The impact was greatest for single people, said an author of the paper Mwenya Mubanga, who is from the university's Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory.

"Dog ownership was especially prominent as a protective factor in persons living alone, which is a group reported previously to be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death," said the author.

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

The researchers examined seven national databases in Sweden, including two that track dog ownership, and focused on people aged 40 to 80.

Single dog-owning adults who lived alone were 11 per cent less likely to subsequently develop heart disease and 33 per cent less likely to die than non-dog owners, the analysis found. Hunting dogs seemed to offer the most protection when it came to staying alive.

It is not clear exactly how the dogs helped avert heart disease, or whether getting one directly led to better health, cautioned the paper's senior author Tove Fall, who is also an associate professor in epidemiology at Uppsala University.

It is possible that dog owners are healthier and more active before they get a canine companion, she said. "We know that dog owners in general have a higher level of physical activity, which could be one explanation to the observed results," said Professor Fall. "Other explanations include an increased well-being and social contacts, or effects of the dog on the bacterial microbiome in the owner."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2017, with the headline 'Your dog might just prolong your life'. Print Edition | Subscribe