Owning a dog may help you live longer

Many dog owners will tell you how much joy their fury family members bring to their lives, but can they also help extend a person's life expectancy? Recent studies suggest that in some circumstances, they can.

Multiple studies have looked at the health benefits of owning a pet. Recently, a study of more than 3.4 million people in Sweden, who were followed for up to 12 years, found that for people who lived alone, having a dog in the home was associated with a significantly lower risk of heart attacks and other deadly conditions.

The study, Dog Ownership and the Risk of Cardio Vascular Disease and Death was conducted by a team of Swedish scientists using information about health conditions and pet registration from the national database.

The results, when adjusted for other factors that could affect mortality, showed that dog owners had a 23 per cent reduction in the risk of death from a heart of blood vessel problem. Dog owners also had a 20 per cent reduction in the risk of dying from other causes, compared to those who didn't have dogs. 

”We know that dog owners in general have a higher level of physical activity, which could be one explanation to the observed results,” says Tove Fall, senior author of the study and Associate Professor in Epidemiology, Uppsala University.

Those who owned hunting breed dogs, including terriers, retrievers and scent hounds, were found to have the lowest risk of cardio vascular disease (heart disease).

The study’s authors believe dogs may help reduce the risk of heart disease by providing social support, and by increasing physical activity. Their review of 11 observational studies found those who owned dogs walked more frequently, and were more physically active.

“A very interesting finding in our study was that 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, than those living in a multi-person household,” says Mwenya Mubanga, lead junior author and PhD student at Uppsala University.

”Perhaps a dog may stand in as an important family member in the single households,” she says.

Bupa GP Dr Kate Haggar says the association between spending time with a pet and increased health and happiness has long been accepted.

“The benefits of pet ownership are remarkably wide reaching, from improved immune systems leading to less asthma and allergies, not to mention less respiratory illnesses. Other benefits include better mental health, improved stress response and mood stability. and even improved empathy and social skills. What’s not to love about having a loyal loving companion who also improves your health!” she says.

If pets are part of your family, don’t forget to protect them against the unexpected with Bupa Pet Insurance.

One study published in JAMA Pediatrics found Swedish children who lived with a dog in their first year of life were 13 per cent less likely to develop asthma by the time they turned six, compared to children without dogs. The same study, which looked at data involving more than a million children, found that children who grew up on a farm with animals were around 50 per cent less likely to have asthma by the time they reached school.

And, a study of almost 400 babies in Finland found that those who lived with dogs or cats in their first year of life experienced less respiratory tract infections, and required less antibiotics compared to those without pets.

Who’d have thought a lovable fury family member could also bring so many potential health benefits?

If you’re looking for a great gift idea this Christmas for dog lovers, find out more about the beautiful coffee table book, Happiness is Dog Shaped.