Personal pets have increasingly become more of a companion to more people than at any other time in our history. It is thought that owning a dog provides health benefits for their owners, primarily in reduction of health risks, particularly cardiovascular disease. Clearly dogs provide needed social support and a unique motivation for physical activity—they require exercise in the form of walking and throwing a ball, etc. In this paper, the authors set out to investigate what, if any, association actually exists between dog ownership and incident cardiovascular disease (CVD) or death.
Utilizing a register-based prospective nation-wide cohort (n = 3,432,153) with up to 12 years of follow-up, the authors analyzed self-reported health and lifestyle habits of 34,202 participants within the Swedish Twin Register. Time-updated covariates were used to calculate hazard ratios (HR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI).
Overall, both single and multiple-person households who owned a dog experienced lower risk of death, HR 0.67 (95% CI, 0.65-0.69) and 0.89 (0.87-0.91), respectively. CVD death was also reduced, HR 0.64 (0.59-0.70), and 0.85 (0.81-0.90).
In single-person households, dog ownership was inversely associated with cardiovascular outcomes (HR composite CVD 0.92, 95% CI, 0.89-0.94). But the lowest CVD risk was associated with ownership of hunting dogs. At first glance it appears that increased owner exercise is a modifiable variable associated with dog ownership. Single adults and hunters would seemingly be more active than would dogs owned by larger households and by non hunters.
However, additional analysis in the Twin Register did produce the same results of reduced risk of CVD or CVD death. One the other hand, the additional analysis did not show confounding results by comorbidities, disabilities or lifestyle factors. In conclusion, dog ownership appears to be associated with lower risk of CVD in single-person households and lower mortality in the general population.
Why Does This Matter?
The effects of loneliness and isolation are difficult to quantify, but have tremendous effect of emotional and psychological health. In general, humans need something to care about. Anecdotal observations of mental health facilities and institutions for the elderly reveal that the presence of a dog seems to improve mood and increase social engagement.
Mubanga M, Byberg L, Nowak C, Egenvall A, Magnusson PK, Ingelsson E, Fall T.
Dog ownership and the risk of cardiovascular disease and death – a nationwide cohort study. Sci Rep. 2017 Nov 17;7(1):15821. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-16118-6.