Having a pet dog can lower heart disease risk

Want to live longer? Get a dog	 	 	 			White golden retriever puppy via ThinkStock

Having a dog in the home substantially reduces the risk of heart attacks and other fatal conditions, a major study has shown.

The results? Dog owners - especially dog owners who lived alone - had a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

A dog can decrease the risk of death by 33 percent and the risk of cardiovascular-related death by 36 percent for people who live alone versus singles without a pet.

"Other explanations include an increased well-being and social contacts or effects of the dog on the bacterial microbiome in the owner".

Owning a dog can slash the risk of premature death by a third, according to new research. The researchers offer the theory that dog owners live longer because canine pets provide a sort of social support and motivation for their humans to be more physically active.

The characteristics of people who decide to get a dog could also be influencing the findings. All were free of heart disease at the beginning of the study.

"Perhaps a dog may stand in as an important family member in the single households". Their chances of cardiovascular death fell by 15 percent.

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The team behind the Swedish study also observed a link between hunting breed ownership and heart health, which was unexpected. "Being a single has previously been reported as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and it seems that a dog may be able to neutralize this over-risk", said Tove Fall, veterinarian and lecturer in epidemiology at the Department of Medical science at Uppsala University, in a statement.

The effect also varies across different breed groups, according to the study's findings, with owners of larger, more active breeds drawing the most health benefits from their canine pals. A group of Swedish scientists conducted research and used national registries from more than 3.4 million Swedes aged 40 to 80 in order to discover whether there is a connection between dog ownership and cardiovascular health.

Now, the results of this study don't mean that there's a causal relationship between owning a dog and living longer.

"Previous studies have shown this association but have not been as conclusive - largely due to the population size studied here".

"Dog owners in particular tend to be a little more extroverted, or outgoing" Kay Joubert, Director Companion Animal Services at PAWS, told The Huffington Post.

While the study does not speculate on why the creatures might be better for life longevity Professor Fall speculated that "there could be direct effects of having a dog, such as more motivation for physical activity".

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