You love your dog… But now you have another reason to spoil your four-legged friend: Your pooch is helping you live longer.
A large Swedish study has found that owning a dog extends lifespan.
Researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden tracked the health, mortality, and dog ownership of more than 3.4 million adults. They followed them for 12 years.
The researchers found that dog owners were 33% less likely to die from any cause. And dog owners were 11% less likely to die of the number one killer, heart disease.1
Dog ownership was associated with lower risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. The research was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Dog Ownership Boosts 3 Longevity Factors
The researchers say that dog owners experience three positive health effects:
- More exercise. Dog owners walk their dogs and are generally more active. A Japanese study of 5,200 adults found that dog owners were 54% more likely to get the daily recommended level of exercise than non-dog owners.2
This activity lowers heart rate, helps stabilize blood sugar, and improves overall heart health.
- A healthier microbiome. Owning a dog can be as healthy as eating probiotic-rich food or taking probiotic supplements. Dogs bring dirt, and yes, bacteria into your home. Many of these microbes are good for you.
Researchers found dogs increase the levels of 56 different classes of beneficial bacterial species in a home. This infusion of microbes helps keep you healthy and your immune system in top condition. (Cats also contributed to probiotic diversity, but less so than dogs. Cats were found to boost levels of 24 classes of bacteria.)3
How powerful is the immune effect? A study at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania found that petting a dog for 18 minutes elevates levels of immunoglobulin A. This is one the body’s most powerful protectors against infection.4
- Stress reduction. Dogs provide stress relief through companionship. But they also can act as an introduction to new human friends and facilitate socialization during walks. This reduces loneliness, which is a major risk factor for early death.5 6
A German university study found owning a dog reduces the stress hormone cortisol. It increases levels of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes a sense of wellbeing.
Mwenya Mubanga is a researcher at Uppsala University. He led the new study.
“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,” Mubanga said. “Perhaps a dog may stand in as an important family member in the single households.”7
Best Dog Breeds for Good Health
Any dog can help extend your lifespan. But to maximize the health benefits, you want one that encourages you to exercise without being too difficult to care for. In other words, you want a pet that is active…but not too active.
According to the American Kennel Club, two classifications of dog best fit this description:
Sporting dogs. These include golden, Chesapeake Bay, or Labrador retrievers, pointers, and setters. They are friendly, like to spend time with people, and make great walking partners.
Terriers. They might be a little feisty, but they are ready-to-go anytime. They are a great choice if you want a smaller dog that loves to walk. This group includes the fox terriers, West Highland terrier (or Westie), rat terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, or Kerry blue terrier.8
One more thing… When you’re ready for a new pet, don’t forget shelter dogs. You’ll be saving a dog’s life. And your new friend might save yours.