It’s fair to say that you dog makes you happy. Seeing their tail wag every time they look your way, staring into those kind brown eyes, and the simple pleasures of playing fetch or taking your beloved pooch for a walk enriches your life and makes every day a whole lot more enjoyable.
But it turns out dogs can directly improve our health in a very big way.
A Swedish study published last year in the Journal of Scientific Reports found that owning a dog can significantly lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and death.
For those of us living alone, researchers showed that owning a dog can decrease our risk of early death by 33% and our risk of cardiovascular death by a whopping 36%. Risk of heart attack for these people is also 11% lower than for single individuals without a pet.
Even in homes where more than one person lives, there’s still a significant health benefit from having a dog around. All-cause risk of death for these folks decreased by 11% when they had a dog and cardiovascular death risk lowered by 15%.
“A very interesting finding in our study was that dog ownership was especially prominent as a protective factor in persons living alone, which is a group reported previously to be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death than those living in a multi-person household,” study author Mwenya Mubanga told CNN.
The study examined the records of over 3.4 million Swedish individuals between the ages of 40 and 80 over a 12 year period. Interestingly, certain breeds appeared to provide more protective effects than others. Those breeds included retrievers, terries, scent hounds and other types of hunting dogs. That being said, all breeds of dog exhibited a significant health effect on their owners.
Researchers had a range of theories as to why dogs improved the health of their owners. One is that dog owners generally have much higher levels of physical activity, which explains the improved cardiovascular markers. Another is that dogs tend to bring dirt and other substances into the home which then help to increase the diversity and health of your microbiome – the community of bacteria and fungi that live in your gut.