Maybe someday doctors will advise patients at risk of cardiovascular disease to not only improve their diet and physical activity, but also to adopt a dog!
Most people who have adopted a dog believe that their life is better for having done so. Now those happy adopters can point to a study by Swedish scientists for evidence in support of that belief.
Tove Fall is an epidemiologist at Uppsala University. She studies patterns and causes of diseases and health conditions in populations. Tove also has a background in veterinary medicine. Her team looked at the association between life expectancy and dog ownership. The group analyzed data for more than 3.4 million Swedes. They concluded that those who lived with dogs were more likely to live longer than those who did not live with dogs.
Healthcare coverage in Sweden is universal. All residents are able to access inexpensive, publicly-financed healthcare. According to the CIA’s comparison of life expectancies in countries around the world, Sweden ranks 16th, with the average Swede living to be 82 years old. To put that in context, the CIA ranks Canada and the United States 21st and 43rd respectively. Swedes all have unique personal identity numbers. Those numbers are used to record all visits to hospitals. In addition Sweden has required all dog owners to register since 2001. This information is in national databases that researchers are able to access after the data has been made anonymous. The data can be cross-referenced, but cannot be tied directly to specific individuals, so no one’s privacy is at risk.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. With that in mind, the team examined whether dog ownership had any relationship with cardiovascular disease or death from it. The team discovered that dog owners seemed to have a reduced risk of heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. In addition, dog owners were not only less likely to die from cardiovascular disease, but from any cause whatsoever. The study authors noted that three unrelated studies in the United States also suggested that dog ownership seems to reduce the risk of death after heart attacks and strokes. However Tove’s study has a sample size 100 times larger than any previously reported similar study. The large sample size, more than 3.4 million people, gives the study’s results particularly strong credibility.
Tove acknowledged in the university’s press release that the type of study her team performed does not show exactly what contributes to the longer life expectancy of dog owners. She speculated that “a higher level of physical activity…could be one explanation” for the study’s results. For example, dog ownership might help people recover from heart attacks or strokes “by acting as motivation and support to” resume walking.
Other explanations she hypothesized about include dogs improving their owners’ sense of well-being and the number of people they see, or even a dog’s effect on the bacteria to which their person is exposed. She noted that there could “also be differences between owners and non-owners” before someone chooses a dog.
Regardless of the reason dog owners seem to live longer, we all owe it to our dogs to help them live their best lives. Great nutrition, such as that supplied by Halo’s different varieties of whole meat dog food, is one component of helping our dogs live happier and healthier lives.
According to PBS, Tove herself has a dog. Her dog’s name is Vega. Whatever the reason that dog ownership is linked with people living longer it seems likely that Vega will help Tove. Tove plans to continue researching how living with dogs helps people and we can’t wait to see what she discovers next. Maybe she’ll even present at a Human Animal Interaction conference in the United States!