Dogs May Melt Your Heart, but They Also Make It Healthier

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A group of academics from Uppsala University in Sweden analyzed the health records of 3.4 million people in that northern European country, where databases contain detailed information on most everyone's hospitalizations, medical history and even whether they own a dog.

They found that dog owners had a lower risk of death due to cardiovascular disease than people who did not report owning a dog, as well as a lower risk of death from other causes. Dogs can alleviate psychosocial stress, depression and loneliness, according to the study, all of which are stressors that can encourage coronary heart disease, cardiovascular death and all-cause mortality.

Having a dog in the home substantially reduces the risk of heart attacks and other fatal conditions, a major study has shown. Also, those who lived alone but with a canine had a 36 percent less likely of developing cardiovascular disease.

A 12-year follow-up revealed dog owners had "a 33% reduction in risk of death and 11% reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease" compared with non-owners.

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However, dogs themselves might not be bringing about positive health effects, said Dr John Bradshaw, a pet researcher at the University of Bristol who was not involved in the study.

The study also says that having a dog increases people's motivation to be more active and add more physical activity into their lives, especially in single-person households where the individuals are exclusively responsible for walking and exercising with their pets.

Researchers also found the lowest rate of cardiovascular disease was among owners of hunting breeds, which isn't surprising when you think about the high-intensity workout they get when their dogs spot a squirrel.

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. The study notes that a much smaller Norwegian study of the same subject, undertaken with similar methods, didn't show a link between dog ownership and lower mortality.

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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.

"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 Bond may not prescribe a dog as treatment for a patient, she said that she will not discourage owning or buying one, or expressing the benefits of owning one.

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