You could live longer if you had a dog

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While the study stops short of determining a direct "causal effect" between dog ownership and lower heart disease, it indicates that dog owners may have better health because they stay active by walking their pets, even in bad weather.

The heart-health benefits of being a dog parent were especially pronounced among people living alone (in this case, meaning without other humans), which, according to the study's authors, is a group reported previously to be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death than those living with other people.

The study, which spanned a 12-year period, involved 3.4 million Swedish people between the ages of 40-80. Their overall risk of death dropped 33 percent and their risk of cardiovascular-related death fell by 36 percent compared to single individuals who did not own a pet.

"And people who get dogs might be different from non-owners in other ways before they choose to get a dog, which could have influenced our results, for example they might already be more interested in physical activity or have a higher level of health".

"These kind of epidemiological studies look for associations in large populations but do not provide answers on whether and how dogs could protect from cardiovascular disease", Tove Fall, a senior author of the study and a professor at Uppsala University, said in a statement.

Another explanation for the findings could be how a dog might affect its owner's microbiome, aka the bacteria that live in your gut.

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Hunting breeds such as Golden Retrievers, Irish Setters and Beagles achieved the best results.

While that might be true, there are enough other benefits to dog ownership to make it worth it. Dog owners are shown to be less depressed and make friends easier, according to a recent study.

"Perhaps a dog may stand in as an important family member in the single households", Mubanga added. A dog forces you into more activity - he needs walks, after all! "We see effects in the single households that are much stronger than in multiple-person households", she said.

Cardiovascular disease causes more than a quarter (26 per cent) of all deaths in the United Kingdom 160,000 each year.

Instead, dog owners may just be healthier to begin with. The estimated 1.1 million lonely Britons are 50% more likely to die prematurely than those with good social networks, making loneliness as harmful to the nation's health as diabetes.

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