To Avoid Heart Disease Forget Diet, Get a Dog

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DuffyDog ownership has been touted as being good for one's health for years. Now a new  scientific study, just presented at the meeting of the American Heart Association, supports what seems to have become common knowledge — dogs are good for you. Senior author on the study was Dr. Tove Fall from Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. Dr. Fall and colleagues used the national Register of the Total Population in 2001, which included all Swedish residents between the ages of 40 and 75. They then cross-referenced those data with information from the national registry of dog licenses (which became mandatory in Sweden in 2001) and the registry of the Swedish Kennel Club and the Swedish Board of Agriculture to find people who owned, or whose partners owned a dog.

About 169,000 individuals who owned dogs were identified. Their mean age at the beginning of the study was 55 years, compared to 52 years in non-owners. They then compared the incidence of coronary heart disease, heart failure, and stroke in dog owners compared to the occurrence in non-owners.

Upon analysis of the data, the investigators found small but significant decreases in the risk of stroke (both ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes) and heart failure. But there was no effect of dog ownership on the risk of developing coronary heart disease.

Although the effects were small (ranging from a 5 to 7 percent risk reduction), the strength of the study was its large size. The authors noted that it was quite possible that the positive effects seen were due to the increase in daily exercise necessitated by dog ownership, or perhaps due to improved psychological health. However, they also admitted that they could not rule out the possibility that people who owned dogs were in better health to start with than were non-owners.

Before anyone runs out to acquire a pooch, however, it's important to recognize that since this was a presentation at a scientific meeting, and not yet published in a peer-reviewed journal, it must be considered preliminary. But if you want a dog because you just want a dog, go for it.