Any dog owner can tell you a canine companion makes life better. But new research has found a pooch can also make life longer and healthier—particularly if you live alone. Scientists in Sweden examined the health and dog-ownership records of some 3.4 million people between 40 and 80 years old. They found that for those who live alone, owning a dog is associated with a 33 percent lower risk of death and a 36 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease over a 12-year period.
The study found that dog ownership was also beneficial for those who didn’t live alone, cutting their overall risk of death by 11 percent, reports CNN.com. The researchers say it’s unclear whether the companionship and emotional support a dog provides alone explains their findings, or whether lifestyle changes associated with owning a dog—including taking Fido out for walks—are also a factor. “There are numerous studies showing that dog owners get more physical activity, which could help to prolong a healthy life,” says senior researcher Tove Fall. It’s also possible that exposure to a dog’s germs, fur, and slobber could also strengthen the immune system. Now that is something to ponder when your dog licks your face.