Take two dog treats and call me in the morning. It turns out dogs are good for more than love, smiles, entertainment and companionship. Several scientific studies have shown a connection between dog ownership and health benefits.
Before we look at the results of these studies, let’s get this out of the way. Many of you have heard me talk about the difference between association and causation. In short, association connects two events in space and time. For example, most people in the world wear shirts and eventually die. There is an association between shirt wearing and death but obviously wearing shirts does not cause death. In contrast, causation suggests a direct correlation between something like cigarette smoking and the subsequent heart attack, stroke and cancer deaths. We know smoking directly causes death in a variety of ways.
Now that we are clear on the concept of association, multiple well-done studies show an association between dog companionship and lower blood pressure levels, improved cholesterol numbers, and diminished physical responses to stress. The respected medical journal Circulation (one of the journals of the American Heart Association) published an interesting article in 2019 based on multiple studies performed over almost 70 years. They reviewed data on 3,837,005 people. The study showed:
- Dog owners had a 24% risk reduction for all-cause mortality compared to people without dogs.
- Dog ownership conferred a 31% risk reduction for cardiovascular events like heart attacks and strokes.
Dog ownership is associated with lower risk of death over the long term, which is possibly driven by a reduction in cardiovascular mortality. Suggested causes for this health benefit may come from higher activity levels (dog owners get up to 30 minutes more exercise daily), less perceived stress and less depression. As if the love, joy, humor, companionship, and entertainment of owning a dog wasn’t enough, now you also have an endorsement from your doctor.
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