Animals and Blood Pressure – petting your way to better health.

Next time you are sitting on the couch and your pet cat jumps into your lap and waits for you to stroke her, or your pet dog runs up to you as soon as you walk in the door looking for a greeting and a tummy rub, just know that not only your pet will be enjoying the attention.puppy dog

Your blood pressure and heart rate will also be be benefitting greatly from the interaction.  You see the bond between owner and pet has been shown in studies to bring about important health benefits for the human half of the relationship.

Owning a Pet reduces stress!

Research shows that petting and talking to a dog leads to a lowering of blood pressure in the owner.  In this study blood pressure levels were at their lowest when petting the dog, and heart rates when either touching or talking to the animal.  The soothing action of petting  causes a drop in stress levels by releasing a relaxation hormone (oxytocin) which then results in a lowering of the blood pressure.

In a second Study the effects  upon the heart health and risk of stroke of owning a cat were examined.  In this case the results revealed that those study subjects who looked after a cat had a 33% less chance of developing cardiac health issues or having a stroke.

Professor Adnan Qureshi –  from the University of Minnesota, where the study was conducted – attributes these beneficial outcomes to the so-called Pet Effect whereby the petting action effectively reduces the amount of stress hormone in the blood.  This in turn leads to a lowering of blood pressure and also heart rate, both of which play an important role in promoting good health by reducing risk of cardiovascular disease.

Interestingly enough, where the companion bond between pet and owner exists due to the time spent together, a further study showed that this relationship led to greater changes in systolic and diastolic BP levels than just petting a dog with whom no companion bond had been developed.

It’s Not Just Cats and Dogs!!

gold fishlovebirdguinea pig

 But  –    Goldfish                               Lovebird                               Guinea Pig …

Indeed, we don’t just have to own a Fido or a Kitty to reap the benefits described above.  Simple gazing at fish and watching them swim around will do wonders for reducing stress.  The mere fact that our attention is captured by the simple movements of the fish helps to keep us focused, and so our attention remains directed in the present and we forget about any past or future worries.  This is significant since being able to manage stress levels is such an important factor in blood pressure management.

According to Dr Alan Beck, professor and director at Purdue University’s Center for the Human-Animal Bond:  

“If something can hold our attention in the present, it is in itself helpful because it reduces stress.” 

The same soothing and tension-reducing effect can also be found when observing caged birds, such as budgies or lovebirds.

And it is noteworthy that guinea pigs have been used with children with autism spectrum to help diminish feelings of anxiety and encourage more positive social behaviours. By being able to hold and cuddle the guinea pigs, the children were seen to exhibit less anxious behaviours.

Of course, not all of us are in a position to own a pet, and if you fall into this category there are some other options to ensure you can get to spend some quality time with some of our furry relatives.  For example:

  • consider visiting the local pet store where you can find a great selection of ‘pettable’ animals.  You may even end up becoming a volunteer there!
  • If you have mobility difficulties, there are groups out there who will bring pets to your home, or place of residence.  Therapy Dogs International  is one such organization.  There are also many local groups which likely offer the same kind of pet home visits.
  • Gaining popularity in both Canada and the USA are Cat Cafés.   A great place to go for your daily latte and spend time petting the furry felines which are on loan from the local cat shelter and live onsite.

So next time you are watching the TV and Fido comes up to you with his leash in his mouth, rather than telling him “later Boy”, get up and give his coat a rub, then take him out for a walk.  Not only will he be happy but you will be doing your blood pressure a favour.  And the exercise will also do you the world of good!!

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