My friend Charlie surprised me one day when he shouted out, "I need a dog!" His little sweetheart companion had passed away and Charlie was missing her presence in his life. Many of us know the feeling. Life with dogs is better.
Now science is giving us concrete evidence why. People who live with dogs are healthier, according to a new study of 3.4 million Swedes. The study found there was a lower risk of cardiovascular disease in people with dogs, particularly of hunting breeds, such as terriers, retrievers and hounds.
But do dogs make people healthy, or do healthier people own dogs?"
There might be differences between owners and non-owners already before buying a dog, with people choosing to get a dog tending to be of better health. While having a dog may help physical activity, it may be active people who choose to have dogs.
Living with a dog may also protect people from cardiovascular disease by increasing their social contact or wellbeing. Or it may help by changing the owner's bacterial microbiome, the collection of microscopic species that live in the gut, as dogs expose people to bacteria they may not encounter otherwise.
Dogs had a particularly protective effect for those who live alone, as single dog owners had 33% less risk of cardiovascular death and 11% less risk of heart attack compared to single non-owners. Not surprisingly, a dog fills the role of family member in single households.
So is having a dog good for your heart's health? I think many of us would say Yes! But that's not why we have dogs, we just love them and they love us, and maybe all that love is good for the heart.