An individual’s genetic makeup may significantly influence his or her choice to own a dog, according to a team of Swedish and British researchers who studied the data of 35,035 twin pairs from the Swedish Twin Registry.
The findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.
“We were surprised to see that a person’s genetic makeup appears to be a significant influence in whether they own a dog,” said Dr. Tove Fall, lead author of the study, and professor in molecular epidemiology at the Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala University in Sweden.
“As such, these findings have major implications in several different fields related to understanding dog-human interaction throughout history and in modern times. Although dogs and other pets are common household members across the globe, little is known how they impact our daily life and health. Perhaps some people have a higher innate propensity to care for a pet than others.”
Studying twins is a well-known method for unraveling the influences of environment and genes on our biology and behavior. Since identical twins share their entire genome, and non-identical twins on average share only half of the genetic variation, comparisons of dog ownership between groups can reveal whether genetics play a role in owning a dog.
The researchers found dog ownership rates to be much larger in identical twins than in non-identical ones; supporting the view that genetics indeed plays a major role in the choice of owning a dog.
“These kind of twin studies cannot tell us exactly which genes are involved, but at least demonstrate for the first time that genetics and environment play about equal roles in determining dog ownership,” said Dr. Patrik Magnusson, senior author of the study and associate professor in epidemiology at the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Karolinska Insitutet in Sweden. He is also head of the Swedish Twin Registry.
“The next obvious step is to try to identify which genetic variants affect this choice and how they relate to personality traits and other factors such as allergy.”
Dogs were the first domesticated animal and have had a close relationship with humans for at least 15,000 years. Today, dogs are extremely popular pets in our society and are considered to increase the well-being and health of their owners.
“These findings are important as they suggest that supposed health benefits of owning a dog reported in some studies may be partly explained by different genetics of the people studied,” said co-author Dr. Carri Westgarth, lecturer in Human-Animal interaction at the University of Liverpool in England.
Source: Uppsala University