Bogey, my almost 8-year-old black Lab retriever tugged at the leash as he tried to go deeper into the woods, probably following the scent of a fox we had seen that morning. It was 7:00 am on a cold fall morning and here we were, walking the dog. I most likely would not be walking this early, were it not for the furball in front.
My thoughts turned to a recently published a study with a title “Dog Ownership and Survival After a Major Cardiovascular Event”, in the American Heart Association Journals. This article seems to have been picked up by many news media with varying titles:
- How much Dog do you need for Optimum Health?
- Dog People Live Longer. But why?
- Dog Ownership is associated with Longer Life
- Heart’s Best friend? Dog Owners Have Longer Life Expectancy
- Are Pet’s really good for us – or Just Hairy Health Hazards.
A search on PubMed showed 84 research papers on dog ownership benefits. The topic has been well researched yet we don’t come out of our annual physical with a prescription to get a dog so we can live longer. (I wonder if there is an ICD10 code for that). Anecdotally, there are two key benefits that I have seen from dog ownership 1) Increased Physical Activity and 2) Companionship. So, lets break these down into more detailed constructs.
Physical Activity is a known elixir for better health. We hear it loud and clear from self-help books, health gurus, the CDC, HHS and NASA. (Kidding about the last one). The benefits range from better mental health, stronger muscles, weight management, reduced risk of chronic diseases to a better sex life. The linear argument is that dog owners have greater physical activity so they must reap these benefits. On the other hand, we need to consider some factors, such as do dog owners universally, have access to places to walk their dogs. What is the distance of the walk, based on where they live and the type of dog they own? What is the owner’s socio-economic status? Does their work/family situation allow them time to walk the dog.
Companionship is a sense of closeness with another person or pet. The human-dog companionship is symbiotic with the human providing food, shelter and security and the pet providing a child-like playful reciprocating love (at least as far as the human perception is concerned). Loneliness is an epidemic that could be counteracted by the companionship of a dog. The dog can reduce the negative moods humans experience. Walks in nature with the dog can have a positive effect on the persons mental well being. The benefits of companionship can be felt regardless of where the person lives, the type of dog (assuming the dog is friendly) or the persons economic status.
There are downsides to dog ownership. The cost of providing healthcare to the dog can add up quickly. The anguish and expense of leaving the dog when traveling or day-care when working needs to be accounted for. Allergies of the pet owner or their families/friends are a major consideration as well.
Which brings us back to the original question, does having a dog help you live longer? My answer is a ‘qualified’ Yes. From a research perspective, much more is needed to determine and account for factors that show longer lives for dog owners. From an anecdotal perspective the increase in Physical activity and companionship are key benefits a dog owner will have as compared to a non-dog owner (I know, there are many other pets, but this article is about dogs).
It’s up to the owner to take advantage of this friendship with their dog to better their lives and that of their dog