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There are many known benefits of having a furry friend – but it looks as if new research has gone even further to suggest that dog owners could actually live longer.

A Swedish study has found that dog owners have a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, which is one of the most common causes of death. The research team analysed 3.4 million 40-80 year olds, comparing the health of dog owners with non-dog owners. People who owned a dog were found less likely to be at risk of cardiovascular disease, and the study also found that this health benefit was maximised in dog owners who lived alone.

The study was recently published in Scientific Reports and found that single dog owners had a 33% lower risk of death and 11% reduction in risk of heart attack, compared to single non-dog owners. Living with a four-legged companion is beneficial in reducing cardiovascular risk – but why?

What’s special about dogs?

So there is now a proven association with dogs and reduced mortality, but why? Having a pet which provides emotional and social support can have many advantages, especially for people living alone. Yet a dog could also act as motivation for physical activity, and give people a reason for taking long walks daily. Regular exercise and keeping active can improve heart health, so perhaps this is why dog owners have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

The research analysed data spanning 11 years from 2001 to 2012 and also found another interesting detail – certain breeds were better at lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. Therefore, owning certain dogs could be better for your health than others. The most beneficial breeds were found to be retrievers, terriers and hounds.

Although many experts made this link between dogs influencing physical activity, the researchers were quick to point out that it may be active people choosing dog ownership, rather than dogs improving activity levels. There is no data for people before and after owning a dog to clarify the association.

The research team also suggested that dogs may improve general wellbeing which has a positive impact on overall health. A dog may also influence its owner’s microbiomes in the gut, exposing dog owners to a range of bacteria they wouldn’t have encountered otherwise.

If you were thinking about buying a dog in retirement, studies like this make the case for becoming a dog owner! Dogs may just hold the secret to long life.

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On December 2, 2017
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