Good news dog owners: your four-legged friend might just help you live longer.
A new study conducted by Swedish researchers found dog owners had a lower risk of early death overall than those who didn't own a pet.
Single dog owners seemed to benefit the most - with a 33% reduction in risk of early death and 11% reduction in risk of heart attack compared to single non-owners.
More than 3.4 million individuals without any prior cardiovascular disease were included in the study, which linked together seven different national data sources in Sweden, including two dog ownership registers.
Mwenya Mubanga, lead junior author of the study and PhD student at Uppsala University, said: "A very interesting finding in our study was that dog ownership was especially prominent as a protective factor in persons living alone, which is a group reported previously to be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death than those living in a multi-person household.
"Perhaps a dog may stand in as an important family member in the single households."
Another interesting finding was that owners of dogs from breed groups originally bred for hunting - such as terriers, beagles and spaniels - appeared to be most protected.
Tove Fall, senior author of the study and Associate Professor in Epidemiology at Uppsala University, noted that while the study found associations between dog ownership and health, it did not provide answers as to how dogs could protect humans from cardiovascular disease.
"We know that dog owners in general have a higher level of physical activity, which could be one explanation to the observed results," Tove said.
"Other explanations include an increased wellbeing and social contacts or effects of the dog on the bacterial microbiome in the owner.
"There might also be differences between owners and non-owners already before buying a dog, which could have influenced our results, such as those people choosing to get a dog tending to be more active and of better health.
"Thanks to the population-based design, our results are generalisable to the Swedish population, and probably also to other European populations with similar culture regarding dog ownership."