The four-legged creature we call dog is affectionally described as “man’s best friend.” These furry animals provide companionship and comfort when we are feeling down, and can even protection from unfamiliar strangers. In addition to the emotional benefits of owning a dog, there are health benefits of canine companionship.
In a research study conducted by Swedish scientists at Uppsala University’s Department of Medical Science and the Science for Life Laboratory, single dog owners were shown to have a “33 percent reduction in risk of death and 11 percent reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease,” according to Mwenya Mubanga, the lead junior author of the study. The research study examined more than 3.4 million individuals without previous cardiovascular disease in 2001 in order to compare how dog owners and non-dog owners fared in risk of cardiovascular disease and death later in life.
The study also revealed that individuals who lived alone and owned a dog had lower risks of cardiovascular disease and death than individuals who owned a dog and lived in a multiple-person household, implying that a larger presence of a pet in a household had a greater effect on lowering risk. Furthermore, those who owned dogs of hunting breeds, which include Pointers, Beagles, and Bloodhounds, also had lower risk of cardiovascular disease and death than those who owned non-hunting breeds.
Image Source: Andy Astfalck
Although the study does not reveal how dog ownership provides a decrease in risk of cardiovascular disease, Tove Fall, a senior author of the study and associate professor at Uppsala University, postulates that individuals who own dogs tend to have higher levels of physical activity, which could explain the decrease in cardiovascular disease risk.
There are several other studies revealing that dog owners have lower blood pressure, contributing to better cardiovascular health. Moreover, sharing a closed space with these canines may affect the owner’s bacterial microbiome, boosting their overall immunity. Another explanation could be improved mental well-being of individuals resulting from dog companionship, for example, reduction in stress, anxiety, and loneliness. Having good mental health is important for cardiovascular health as it keeps our blood pressure and cholesterol levels within appropriate ranges. Chronic stress can lead to blood clots, damage of artery walls, heart attacks, or even strokes.
Whatever the mechanism explaining the association between dog ownership and lower risk of cardiovascular disease may be, it is undeniable that dogs play positive roles in our lives. Whether it is through fostering more active lifestyles, or reducing our stress levels by providing comradeship, dogs improve our cardiovascular health. It is no wonder that they are called our best friends!
Featured Image Source: Dog by Allan Foster