Dogs Lower Human Blood Pressure, Study Confirms



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Dogs can have a positive effect on a person’s blood pressure, researchers believe.

Blood’s been known to boil when Fido does his business on the living room rug, but overall, pet dogs are more likely to lower their owners’ blood pressure, according to a University of Maryland study.

Some 32 pet owners who participated in the study wore a small device that measured their ambulatory blood pressure every 20 minutes as they went about their normal activities.

Measurements were taken on three separate days: at the start of the study, the one-month point and the three-month mark, thus allowing researchers to take into account factors such as physical activity and mood that may influence blood pressure.

Diaries were used to obtain information about activity and mood and whether the pet or another person was present or in close proximity at each assessment.

The study looked at 29 women and three men ages 50 to 83 who had mild hypertension.  

"This is the first study to examine blood pressure under normal living conditions with animals present,” said the study’s lead author, Erika Friedmann, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing. "It allowed us to evaluate the real-time impact of companion animals in their owners’ daily lives.”

Of the 21 participants who owned only dogs, the results showed that the presence of a dog significantly lowered systolic blood pressure (pressure when the heart muscle contracts) and diastolic blood pressure (pressure when the heart muscle relaxes).

"This study enhances our understanding of the potential positive impact of pet dogs on the blood pressure of individuals with hypertension,” Friedmann said. "The findings also reinforce the growing body of evidence supporting the therapeutic role animals can play in improving general and cardiovascular health.”

Surprisingly, the same couldn’t be said for pet cats.

Of the eight study participants who were solely cat owners, the findings showed that, on average, an older adult’s diastolic blood pressure was lower and systolic blood pressure was higher when a cat was present.

This result was unexpected, as earlier studies showed that cats are associated with both decreased stress plus lower diastolic and systolic blood pressure. Another look has to be taken into the nature of the cat-owner interaction and the physical activity of cat owners, the researchers stated.

Three participants owned both a dog and a cat.

The study was supported by funding from Mars Petcare’s Waltham Center for Pet Nutrition in Leicestershire, England.

The complete study is published in the December 2013 issue of Anthrozoos, a journal of the International Society for Anthrozoology.

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