Thanks, buddy


Lars offers support to friend Steve Rinehart during a Chugach Mountain hike/Craig Medred photo

Yes, this might be a little hard to believe – and cat people might choose to argue – but scientists have concluded a dog could add years to your life.

“Dog ownership was associated with a 24 percent risk reduction for all-cause mortality as compared to nonownership,” Canadian scientists reported in the October issue of Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

“Notably, in individuals with prior coronary events (a heart attack or chest-pain signalling a heart attack), living in a home with a dog was associated with an even more pronounced risk reduction for all-cause mortality. Moreover, when we restricted the analyses to studies evaluating cardiovascular mortality, dog ownership conferred a 31 percent risk reduction for cardiovascular death.”

The team led by Dr. Caroline K. Kramer from the University of Toronto Leadership Sinai Centre for Diabetes noted, however, that it did not correct its statistical meta-analysis for “confounders,” variables that could influence the conclusions.

Dogs, for instance, might simply be encouraging people to get up off the couch to take them for a walk, and exercise is a well-documented way to lower “all-cause mortality.”

A 2018 study of 122,007 people involved with the Cleveland Clinic Foundation found that the more people exercised the longer they lived. The doctors involved with that study set out to investigate whether there was an upper limit to how much exercise was too much and instead found that “extremely high aerobic fitness was associated with the greatest survival and was associated with benefit in older patients and those with hypertension.”

The study reported in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) also concluded the overall risks of dying associated with lack of fitness were “comparable to or greater than traditional clinical risk factors,” such as coronary heart disease, smoking and diabetes.

So if Fido got you up and moving today, give him or her a pat on the head and a “thank you” because that act alone could be a beneficial confounder in the Canadian study. But not all dog owners are exercised by their dogs, which leaves open questions of what else could be going on to provide dog owners a longer life.


The authors of the Canadian study suggested that the one of the benefits of dog ownership to humans could be linked to the general calming influence of a canine companion.

“Recent reports have suggested an association of dog companionship with lower blood pressure levels, improved lipid profile, and diminished sympathetic responses to stress,” they wrote.

Kramer, the lead author, confessed a possible conflict in the study; she is “a proud dog owner.” But that is unlikely to influence a statistical analysis given the generally poor math schools of canines.

What is more likely to be going on here is some way big or small is the all-powerful placebo effect which links human psychology to human physiology.

“Contrary to popular belief, patients don’t just imagine placebo responses,” writes Benika Pinch at Harvard University’s Science in the News. “Rather, numerous brain-imaging studies have confirmed that placebos cause measurable changes in neurobiological signaling pathways.”

The placebo effect pops up all over the place, but has been most noted in pain studies. In one famous 1980s exercise, postoperative patients were given secret doses of pain-deadening morphine or saline solution described to them as a powerful painkiller.

The patients getting the saline reported no more pain than the people getting the morphine, a proven and potent painkiller.

The likely placebo connection between humans and canines would come in dogs making people happier, for reasons hard to fully explain, and a happy view of life working to extend it, again for reasons hard to fully explain.

Various studies have documented the value of happiness on health, but nobody really knows why. 

There is a lot that remains unknown about the subtle ways in which the mind influences the operations of the body, but we now know the mind does influence physiology. The medical community has for years been wrestling with how to take advantage of this fact.

“… The benevolent use of deception to invoke a placebo response is contrary to the principle of respect for patient autonomy,” a 2011 study noted. “Very little research has been conducted to understand whether placebo interventions can be prescribed overtly without deception, (but one) found that patients with irritable bowel syndrome showed significant improvement of symptom severity after receiving open-label placebo when compared with a no-treatment control group….”

A 2017 study suggested results might depend on the provider, noting that “warmer and more competent” physicians solicited a greater placebo response than those “colder and less competent.”

The human-dog relationship would seem little influenced by such attitudes. Most people don’t keep dogs around if they don’t like them. They keep them around when they provide solid emotional support.

The science now indicates that has real value, and the best news is you don’t need to go to a doctor for a diagnosis or a prescription before undertaking this life-extending treatment.







6 replies »

  1. No research needed to verify this case of canine benefit to long term health. My daughter’s half Rot, half golden for sure prolonged my middle son’s life, when–with a full pack–she launched into a huge, full-out charging grizzly’s face at (a later measured) eight feet.

  2. The best reason to have a dog is……..unconditional love! I don’t get that from my kids or wife. I do get it from my 2 labs.

    Another benefit is forced exercise. They are house dogs, so they need to go out several times/day, regardless of weather. The incremental physical activity over the years has got to have benefits for my physical and mental health.

  3. Seems like a good argument to advance Animal Welfare reform in Alaska and petition the government to include “sled dogs” within this protection.

    • Steve Stine,

      This post reads like a love-story. What’s the “argument” … that Craig Medred abuses his dog Lars? Nooo..

      But it’s a segue to sled-dogs. The one-time (kaput) PETA project to take down a high-profile regional animal-sport. Partly, their reach exceeded their grasp … mushing is understandably very popular in snow-country. Partly, the depiction of team-owners and kennels as systematically using & shielding widespread abuse lacks realistic evidence. Credibility is hard to earn, easy to lose.

      Once upon time PETA was just another if notably-strange NGO. Anything for 7 seconds on the Evening News. Folks wondered, from their bizarre antics; ‘Are these people really all there’?

      Now rather far back in their history, PETA realized that an independent network of animal-welfare people & organizations were working to address the problem of millions of pets, mainly dogs, that need someone to give them a home & decent life. PETA declared them all – using a strained logic that the average dysfunctional pubescent male hiding in the basement would reject – The Sworn Enemy.

      PETA’s solution to millions of dogs that need help, is to kill them, all of them. Gaia will sort them out. It’s beyond bizarre, uncalled-for, and inexplicable. One good thing about it, the general public no longer needs to struggle to know whether PETA is all there, ok. They’re not.

  4. Dr. Hans Selye created quite a scientific splash with a sophisticated Stress Theory. Hungarian, he did his work mainly at U McGill (Canada, as here) in the 1940s and 1950s, and it got a lot of coverage in the general-interest popular press through the 1960s.

    Selye was one of those discoverers who try to expand the range & extent of his basic claim, and build it up & elaborate on it, to the maximum degree. They get a snoot-full of intellectual success, and it goes to their head. Try to keep yer eye on the Stress Theory baby, and deal with the human-foibles bath-water as a separate chore (this was not his only mistake/misstep).

    Dog ownership could also be a significant ‘indicator’, as well as creating a placebo factor. A person generally needs to have achieved a certain level of Command & Control, to have a place basically alright to keep a dog. To a degree, a person internally recognizes that ‘now’ they have ‘arrived’ – that now they have a place that is ok-enough that they can go ahead and keep a dog. Having that C&C going for yerself is mysteriously-potent, like (even related to?) the placebo-effect.

    Personally, I view the larger Selye & Stress Theory story as similar to the discovery that stomach ulcers can be cured with antibiotics – a pill. Until recent history, we carved up folk’s guts, if they got an ulcer. Often repeatedly (yo! – because it didn’t work!). Crazy. Establishment-medicine resisted mightily that a pill was sufficient … and then when they did finally cave it was immediately, Move along now people – nothing to see here!

    Selye was onto some serious stuff, particularly if you have a solid Biology background, a ‘sciency’ temperament. But you can tell that there were ‘issues’ at work in this drama, eg from the fact that he was nominated for the Nobel Prize 19 times, without ever winning. Although many in Science were excited by the new insights … others still wanted to not-cure ulcers with stomach-surgery … the Establishment was (is??) still in defense-mode.

    I can’t be totally sure on the real-science level, but it’s possible that ongoing dribbles of empirical observations & correlations (for many decades) – like the way a dog helps stave off further heart trouble – suggest we still have a serious breakthrough in the offing here, of the sort that – like curing ulcers with a pill – is hugely beneficial and makes a real difference, for average people. While the vested professionals pout & sulk.

  5. Everything you described is caused by marriage. But a dog, that is man’s best friend. They only nag when they need to use the bathroom.

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