Fall also adds that there may be slight differences between dog owners and non-owners well before any of the two groups were exposed to dogs, which could have influenced the results. While owning a mixed-breed dog was correlated with a higher risk of CVD, ownership of a purebred pooch was associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality.
While the research was carried out in Sweden, Fall does believe it may also apply to other countries, including the USA, since popular breeds and people's attitudes toward dog care are similar.
Swedish researchers have found a positive relationship between dog ownership and a lower risk of death due to cardiovascular diseases or to other causes. Also, those who lived alone but with a canine had a 36 percent less likely of developing cardiovascular disease. They focused on 3.4 million people who had no history of cardiovascular disease in 2001, and followed their health records-as well as whether they registered as a dog owner-for about 12 years.
"The findings of the largest ever investigation of the association between dog-ownership and human health should encourage all of us to add a four-legged friend in our family circle", she said.
The protective effect was especially prominent for people living alone, who have been found to have a higher risk for early death than those who live with other people.
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Fall plans on digging into how exactly dogs might affect their owners in future studies, including evaluating how the bacteria in a dog owner's gut might differ from people living in a pet-free house, and how a canine medical crisis might affect an owner's health. Their risk of heart attack was not reduced.
Everything from registering a dog to visiting a hospital requires presentation of a unique identification number in Sweden, so the team from Uppsala University were able to access an anonymised set of data from national registries. However, owning any dog will reduce an owners risk of death, just to different extents, said Tove Fall, senior author of the study and Associate Professor in Epidemiology at Uppsala University.
Fall believes that while their study provides strong evidence for the health benefits of dogs, their work is not done yet, since it does not answer why dogs achieve these results or why specific breeds seems to offer more protection.
"However, as many dog owners may agree, the main reason for owning a dog is the sheer joy". Studies have also suggested that dog owners have lower reactivity to stress and faster recovery of blood pressure following stressful events.