The presence of a pet dog can significantly lower the blood pressure of its owner as they go about their day-to-day activities, new research by the University of Maryland has shown. The study, which was supported by funding from the WALTHAM® Centre for Pet Nutrition (WALTHAM®), looked at pet owners over 50 years of age with pre- to mild hypertension and found that blood pressure was lower when pet dogs were present. These results suggest that dogs may be an effective component of interventions to help slow the development of hypertension in older adults.
"Lowering blood pressure is the most important therapeutic goal in treating hypertension," said lead study author, Erika Friedmann, a Professor at the University of Maryland. "This is the first study to examine blood pressure under normal living conditions with animals present. It allowed us to evaluate the real-time impact of companion animals in their owners' daily lives. This study enhances our understanding of the potential positive impact of pet dogs on the blood pressure of individuals with hypertension. The findings also reinforce the growing body of evidence supporting the therapeutic role animals can play in improving general and cardiovascular health."
The study was conducted with pet-owning adults aged 50 years or older who lived independently and had mildly elevated blood pressure. A majority of participants were already undergoing primary treatment for hypertension, including medication to lower blood pressure. Unlike previous studies, blood pressure was measured automatically every 20 minutes by a small device worn by the pet owners as they went about their normal day-to-day activities. Taking measurements in this way, over three separate days across a three-month study period, allowed the researchers to take into account factors other than the pet's presence that may have influenced blood pressure. These included the owner's physical activity and mood.
Results showed that the presence of a dog was associated with significantly lower systolic blood pressure (pressure when the heart muscle contracts) and diastolic blood pressure (pressure when the heart muscle relaxes). The researchers also looked at the impact of the presence of pet cats on blood pressure. Their findings showed that on average an older adult's diastolic blood pressure was lower and systolic blood pressure was higher when their 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. Further work is needed to look at the nature of the interaction and physical activity of cat owners.
The study was partly funded by WALTHAM®, the science institute for Mars Petcare. Dr Sandra McCune, Scientific Leader - Human-Animal Interaction at WALTHAM®, explained the importance of this research: "We have long been aware of the beneficial effect dogs can have on their owners' blood pressure. This study confirms that the presence of dogs during normal day-to-day life can lower blood pressure in adults with mild hypertension. WALTHAM® is proud to continue to support research in this key area."
The research has been published in Anthrozoös and is available online: http://bit.ly/1c8ATRQ
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