PHOENIX, AZ — Middle-aged and older dog owners were less likely to die from CVD or all causes, and those who lived alone were less likely to have an MI or stroke, during a decade of follow-up in a large study based on Swedish national registry data[1].

The findings suggest that "especially for those who live alone, dog ownership makes a significant difference . . . in health status," Dr Mwenya Mubanga (Uppsala University, Sweden) told heartwire from Medscape at a poster session at the recent American Heart Association (AHA) Epidemiology and Prevention and Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health (EPI|Lifestyle) 2016 Scientific Sessions.

Dog owners get daily exercise from walking their dogs, and canine companions can reduce stress, which might explain these findings, the researchers speculate.

However, these are very preliminary results. Perhaps the people who owned a dog had fewer comorbidities and led a healthier lifestyle, or other confounders might play a role, Mubanga cautioned. The group plans to investigate this in further study.

Similarly, Dr Gang Hu (Pennington Biomedical Research, Baton Rouge, LA), who stopped to look at the poster, pointed out that the dog owners do more exercise (by walking their dogs), which may contribute to having a lower body weight, lower blood pressure, and possibly good lipid levels and a lower risk of diabetes—which may all act to lower mortality. Having a dog may also reduce the chances of having depression, which might partly explain the more striking findings in the people who lived alone, he added.

Canines and Cardiovascular Disease

Since 2001, dog owners in Sweden have been required by law to register their dogs, and an estimated 83% of dogs were registered that year with the Swedish Board of Agriculture and/or the Swedish Kennel Club dog registries, Mubanga and colleagues explain.

They examined the Swedish national registry data to see how dog ownership was related to new CVD events or mortality.

Of 4.31 million adults who were 40 to 80 years old on January 1, 2001, they identified 3.36 million adults who were not recent immigrants, had no prior CVD, and had complete data for health outcomes until December 31, 2012.

This included 162,091 dog owners (4.8% of the population) and 3,195,153 people who were not dog owners.

Compared with people who did not own a dog, those who did were more likely to be male (49% vs 48%), have completed college (27% vs 26%), be born in Sweden (94% vs 90%), and live in a less densely populated area of the country (45 vs 73 individuals/km2).

Fewer dog owners were single (unmarried, widowed, or divorced) than people who did not own a dog (25% vs 41%).

Dog owners who lived alone or with at least one child or adult were less likely to die of CVD or all causes during follow-up compared with those who did not own a dog, but the relationships were stronger for solitary dwellers.

Risk of CVD, All-Cause Mortality, Dog Owners vs Dog Non-owners

Mortality cause Living arrangements HR (95% CI)*
Composite CVD Alone 0.61 (0.54–0.69)
Composite CVD Not alone 0.85 (0.80–0.90)
All-cause Alone 0.65 (0.62–0.68)
All-cause Not alone 0.88 (0.86–0.90)
*After adjustment for sex, marital status, presence of children, age-adjusted income, area of residence, and population density

Among dog owners, solitary dwellers (but not others) were also significantly less likely to have an MI or stroke than people who did not have a dog.

Risk of Incident MI, Ischemic Stroke, Dog Owners vs Dog Non-owners

Outcome Living arrangements HR (95% CI)*
Ischemic stroke Alone 0.89 (0.82–0.96)
Ischemic stroke Not alone 1.00 (0.96–1.04)
MI Alone 0.90 (0.84–0.96)
MI Not alone 0.98 (0.95 –1.01)
*After adjustment for sex, marital status, presence of children, age-adjusted income, area of residence, and population density

The authors have no relevant financial relationships.

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