Dog ownership and the risk of cardiovascular disease and death

”Our paper about how dog owners have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease will likely be one of the most cited papers from Uppsala University in 2017,” says Tove Fall, PI of the study Dog ownership and the risk of cardiovascular disease and death – a national cohort study that was published in November, 2017.

In the study, the research team used national registries to study over 3.4 million Swedish adults over twelve-year period. Out of these, 13 per cent were dog owners or had a partner that owned a dog. The results showed that dog ownership was inversely associated with risk of different cardiovascular diseases such as infarction, stroke and heart failure.

“We also found that dog owners had a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease or from other causes. This was most prominent for dog owners living alone. In addition, ownership of hunting breed dogs was associated with the lowest risk,” Tove Fall says.

Tove Fall with dog
Tove Fall (Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt)

Tove explains that the type of study that they have performed only shows correlations and does not provide evidence for how dog ownership affects the risk for cardiovascular disease.

“However, there might be some direct effects on health from owning a dog,” she says. “One is that the dog can reduce psychosocial stress factors such as loneliness, which have been linked to increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Another explanation is that dog owners in general are more physically active, especially in single person households, which can affect both disease risk and the chance to recover after a cardiovascular incidence.”

Collaborative research

With a background at SLU – she has an undergraduate education in veterinary medicine and did her PhD at SLU – Tove Fall sees many advantages with interactions between the universities.

“In my research, I am involved in three types of collaborations,” she explains. “One of these are joint projects about a scientific question, where my main interest is the health of animal owners and the link between animals and humans. The second type is when I am approached by other researchers to contribute with my expertise in a specific area, and the third is when I ask other experts to join a project that I am running.”

Diabetes in cats and development of the gut microbiome

One area of collaboration focuses on diabetes in cats. Tove has been co-supervisor for postgraduate student Malin Öhlund, who recently defended her thesis Feline diabetes mellitus: aspects on epidemiology and pathogenesis. She also has an on-going collaboration with Emma Strage.

Tove is also involved in a project on microbiomes with Johan Dicksved at SLU.

“In this project, we study how the early development of the gut microbiome is affected by environmental factors. We analyse saliva and faeces in mothers and babies before, during and after pregnancy and delivery. Our main focus is to determine if exposure to antibiotics and pets affects the risk for developing type 1 diabetes but we also study markers of inflammation.”

More information:
Tove Fall’s research
Malin Öhlund’s research
Johan Dicksved’s research
The paper Dog ownership and the risk of cardiovascular disease and death – a national cohort study