Owning a dog cuts risk of heart attacks and other fatal diseases, study shows | Science

Never mind the chewed slippers, the hair on the sofa, and the inexplicable barking at 3am. Having a dog in the home substantially reduces the risk of heart attacks and other fatal conditions, a major study has shown.

Researchers found that dog ownership had a dramatic effect on people who live alone, cutting the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 36%. In households with more people under the same roof, dogs had less of a positive impact, but still lowered deaths from heart disease by 15%, the work reveals.

The findings emerge from a study of more than 3.4 million people in Sweden whose medical and pet ownership records were analysed to investigate the potential health benefits of dog ownership. Those who took part in the study were aged 40 to 80 years old and were followed for up to 12 years. Just over 13% had pet dogs.

Tove Fall, professor of epidemiology at Uppsala University, and owner of a five-month-old Kooikerhondje puppy, said the health benefits of dog ownership appeared to be starkest for people who otherwise lived alone. “We see effects in the single households that are much stronger than in multiple-person households,” she said. “If you have a dog you neutralise the effects of living alone.”

Last month, the leader of Britain’s GPs, Helen Stokes-Lampard, warned that loneliness was as bad for human health as a long-term illness. The estimated 1.1 million lonely Britons are 50% more likely to die prematurely than those with good social networks, making loneliness as harmful to the nation’s health as diabetes. While people who live alone are not necessarily lonely, many in the Swedish study seemed to benefit disproportionately from having a dog around.

Working with her colleague, Mwenya Mubanga, on records from Sweden’s national registries, Fall also looked at deaths from any cause and found that people who lived alone with their dogs were a third less likely to die over the study period than those without dogs. For those in…

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