Dog-owning heart attack patients live longer

10 October 2019

Tove Fall playing with her dog.

Having a dog is a good incentive for physical activity, a key factor in rehabilitation and well-being, thinks Tove Fall, veterinarian and professor of molecular epidemiology.

Scientists at Uppsala University have investigated whether dog owners survive a heart attack or stroke more often than other people. The results show that both stroke and heart attack patients who were dog owners had a lower risk of dying during the follow-up period than those patients who did not own a dog.

The association between dog ownership and better health in Sweden has already been demonstrated in previous studies from the same research group. In 2017, for instance, they showed that dog ownership was associated with lower all-cause (overall) mortality

In a new study, the researchers used information from the Swedish National Patient Register, along with the dog registers kept by the Swedish Board of Agriculture and the Swedish Kennel Club, to find out whether dog ownership had any bearing on survival after a heart attack or stroke. Particulars of all patients aged 40–85 who had suffered a stroke or heart attack in the years 2001–2012 were included in the material.

Lower risk of dying

The scientists were able to see that dog ownership was associated with better survival rates in both groups of patients. The clearest effect was found for heart attack patients who lived alone. Among them, the dog owners’ risk of dying was 33 per cent lower than that of the patients living alone who did not have a dog.

“We know that social isolation and loneliness are a strong risk factor for relatively poor health and early death. Previous studies have shown that dog owners experience relatively little social isolation and interact more with other people. Having a dog is also a good motive for physical activity, which is an important factor in rehabilitation and well-being,” says Tove Fall, veterinarian and professor of molecular epidemiology at Uppsala University’s Department of Medical Sciences, who headed the study.

Beneficial effect on health

The study results indicate that dog ownership has a positive effect on our health. However, to be able to prove the nature of the cause-and-effect relationships we need more studies. Although the study took other morbidity (ill health) into account, there may have been other differences between dog owners and non-owners that were not considered. In view of the animals’ well-being, it is important to bear in mind that only people who feel that they have ample scope and knowledge for looking after a dog properly should acquire one.

 

Publication:

Mwenya Mubanga, Liisa Byberg, Agneta Egenvall, Erik Ingelsson, and Tove Fall (2019) Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

The study was funded by the Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning (Formas ) and the Agria Research Foundation .