Is Owning a Dog the Secret to a Longer Life?


Recent studies have found evidence of a correlation between dog ownership and longer lifespans.

Specifically, research has shown that overall, dog owners tend to live longer than non-owners. Additional studies, like one published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, suggest dog ownership is linked to a 21% reduction in the risk of death from any cause.

Benefits of Dog Ownership

There are many potential benefits associated with owning a dog. Three major benefits include companionship and reduced loneliness, increased physical activity from dog walking, and a sense of purpose and responsibility.

Dogs can provide companionship and help reduce feelings of loneliness, especially for single people, seniors, and those living alone 1. Having a dog gives many people someone to care for and love unconditionally. Humans form strong emotional bonds with their dogs.

person walking dog

Owning a dog requires regular walking and exercise, which contributes to increased physical activity levels 2. Dog owners tend to get more exercise, meeting the daily recommended 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. Regular dog walking provides cardiovascular benefits and strengthens muscles.

Caring for a dog also provides a sense of purpose and responsibility in an owner’s life 3. Having to feed, groom, and tend to the needs of a dog gives many people meaning and routine. The duty of being accountable for a dog’s health and happiness can be very fulfilling.

Studies on Dog Ownership and Longevity

Several major studies over the past few decades have shown a correlation between dog ownership and increased longevity in humans. In 2013, a study of over 3.4 million individuals in Sweden found that dog owners had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and death compared to non-dog owners (1). Another large 2019 study analyzed dog ownership in over 336,000 Swedish adults aged 40-85 years old. They found a 33% reduction in risk of death for dog owners compared to non-owners (2).

In addition, a 2019 meta-analysis looked at data from 10 different studies encompassing over 3 million participants across Europe, Canada, and Australia. It found that dog owners had a 24% reduced risk of mortality compared to non-owners (3). The largest reduction in mortality risk was due to cardiovascular causes.

While these studies show a strong correlation between dog ownership and increased lifespan, the causation is still unclear. Some possible explanations are that dogs encourage more physical activity, lower stress and loneliness, increase socialization, and provide companionship. However, more research is still needed to determine if dog ownership directly leads to greater longevity.

research studies on dog ownership

Possible Explanations

Several studies have explored why living with dogs may contribute to a longer life. Some of the primary possible explanations include:

Increased Activity and Fitness

Dogs require regular walks and exercise, which motivates owners to be more physically active. According to the American Heart Association study, dog owners walk more frequently than non-dog owners. Increased physical activity from dog walking may help reduce cardiovascular risk factors and maintain a healthy weight.

Lower Stress and Cortisol Levels

Interacting with pets has been shown to reduce stress and lower cortisol levels. According to an NPR article analyzing multiple studies, petting a dog can trigger the release of feel-good hormones like oxytocin and decrease production of the stress hormone cortisol. This stress reduction effect may contribute to better cardiovascular health.

Social Engagement and Community

Having a dog increases opportunities for social interaction, as dog owners often meet other pet owners on walks or at dog parks. An American Heart Association review found greater social support among dog owners, which helps reduce loneliness and isolation – major risk factors for heart disease.

Other Pet Ownership and Longevity

While evidence for the longevity benefits of dog ownership is strong, research on other pets is more limited. Some studies have explored associations between owning pets like cats, birds, or fish and human health or lifespan.

For example, one large UK study found a lower risk of cardiovascular disease in cat owners compared to non-pet owners, but no difference in overall mortality risk (source). Another study suggested bird and fish owners may have some reduction in mortality risk, but less so than dog owners.

Overall, evidence specifically linking cat, bird, or fish ownership to increased longevity is weaker than for dogs. More research is still needed to fully understand how other pets may contribute to healthy aging. But current findings suggest cats, birds, fish, and other pets can still provide valuable companionship, stress relief, and other health benefits for their owners.

Dog Ownership Challenges

Owning a dog comes with significant challenges and responsibilities. One of the biggest challenges owners face are the costs associated with properly caring for a dog. According to the ASPCA, the average annual cost of caring for a dog is $1,480 for basic medical expenses, food, treats, toys, license and other miscellaneous costs. Emergency vet bills and other unexpected costs can easily add thousands more per year (

dog ownership costs

Owning a dog is also a major time commitment. Dogs require daily exercise, play time, grooming, training, and general care and attention. The ASPCA recommends spending at least one hour per day giving your dog focused attention and play beyond just letting them outside ( For many owners, finding the time to properly care for their dogs can be a struggle.

House training a new dog also takes consistent effort and time. According to the AKC, house training may take from 2 weeks to several months depending on the dog ( Accidents in the home are a common frustration owners face.

While incredibly rewarding, dog ownership involves major lifestyle adjustments, financial resources, and time commitments. Prospective owners should carefully consider if they are ready for these responsibilities before getting a dog.

Risks of Dog Ownership

While owning a dog provides many health benefits, there are also some risks that should be considered. Two major risks of dog ownership are dog bites and injuries and transmission of zoonotic diseases.

According to a study published in Injury Prevention, over 4.5 million dog bites occur each year in the United States, with around 20% of those bites being severe enough to require medical treatment [1]. Dog bites can cause physical trauma such as lacerations, infections, scarring, and fractures. Children are the most frequent victims of serious dog bites. Proper training and socialization of dogs can help reduce the risk of biting incidents.

Dogs can transmit a variety of zoonotic diseases to humans, such as rabies, salmonellosis, leptospirosis, campylobacteriosis, and parasitic infections [2]. These diseases are spread through contact with dog saliva, feces, or skin. Keeping dogs up-to-date on vaccinations, maintaining good hygiene, avoiding contact with feces, and controlling parasites can help reduce disease transmission risks.

Who Benefits Most?

elderly person with dog

Research shows that elderly individuals see the biggest positive impact from dog ownership. Several studies have found that elderly dog owners have lower rates of depression, better cardiovascular health, and live longer than non-dog owners. For example, a 2019 study found that single people over age 65 who owned dogs were 33% less likely to die over the course of the study compared to single non-dog owners.

Families with children also benefit greatly from dog ownership. Children learn responsibility, empathy, and have lower stress levels when growing up with a dog. One study found that children ages 4-10 with pet dogs had more robust immune systems and fewer sick days from school. However, families should consider the added responsibility and costs of properly caring for a dog.

Interestingly, demographic differences exist in who benefits most from dog ownership. A 2020 survey showed that single adults were more likely to report mental health improvements than married couples. And middle-aged dog owners reported more weight loss benefits than younger millennials. But overall, people across all demographics tend to enjoy better health and wellbeing when sharing their life with a furry friend.


Responsible dog ownership is key to maximizing the benefits for both you and your pet. Here are some tips for being a responsible dog owner:

Train your dog consistently using positive reinforcement. Establishing good behaviors early on will make for an easier experience down the line (Source: Reddit).

Feed your dog a healthy diet appropriate for their age, size, and activity level. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight will support their wellbeing (Source: AKC).

Provide plenty of exercise through walks, play, or training sessions. A tired dog is a well-behaved dog (Source: Purina).

Keep up with veterinary care including vaccinations, heartworm prevention, flea/tick control, and annual checkups. Preventative care is much easier than treating illnesses (Source: AKC).

Be patient, especially during the first year. It takes time to establish routines and work through puppy behaviors. Remember that dogs want to please you (Source: Reddit).

Make time for plenty of affection and interaction through petting, playing, training, or just hanging out together. A strong bond will make dog ownership more rewarding for you both (Source: Purina).


Based on the research discussed, there does appear to be a correlation between dog ownership and increased lifespan. Multiple large-scale studies have shown that dog owners tend to live longer than non-dog owners. For example, a 2013 study of over 3 million people in Sweden found that dog owners had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and death. Another 2019 study of over 336,000 people in the UK also found reduced cardiovascular and all-cause mortality for dog owners.

While more research is still needed, the evidence so far consistently points to real health benefits of owning a dog. Possible explanations include increased physical activity from walking dogs, social benefits and reduced loneliness, and stress relief from bonding with pets. Taken together, these effects may combine to lower disease risk and promote longevity.

Of course, simply getting a dog will not magically extend your life. Dog ownership also comes with responsibilities and costs. However, for many people dogs can provide companionship, encourage healthy behaviors, and give a sense of purpose. If you are able to properly care for a dog, their presence in your life could have measurable benefits for your long-term health and happiness.

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