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Pets help stabilize owner's blood pressure

A pet's calming influence may outperform drug therapy when it comes to reducing stress-related spikes in blood pressure, researchers report.

"We've shown over and over that it's beneficial to be with a pet when you're under stress," explained Dr. Karen M. Allen of the State University of New York at Buffalo. She reported the findings here Sunday at a meeting of the American Heart Association (AHA).

Numerous studies have found that pets improve the emotional and physical well being of their owners, especially the elderly. The Buffalo researchers' new findings suggest that Fluffy or Fido may even soothe the savage breasts of stress-prone Wall Street stockbrokers.

In their study, the investigators asked 48 stockbrokers to conduct in-home 'stress tests' aimed at producing temporary spikes in blood pressure. Prior to the study, the brokers lived alone and were diagnosed by their physicians as suffering from hypertension.

In initial stress tests, subjects were asked to either rapidly count backwards by 17 or try arguing their way out of a shoplifting charge. During these exercises, blood pressure levels reached an average peak of up to 184/126 mm Hg.

The stockbrokers were then prescribed the antihypertensive drug lisinopril. Half of the study participants also got a dog or a cat as a housepet.

The researchers repeated a second round of stress tests in the subjects' homes 6 months later. They report that in the brokers without pets, stress-induced blood pressure rose an average of 20 mm Hg, reaching highs of 141/94 mm Hg. Readings like these are "still high enough to be diagnosed as high blood pressure if sustained over a period of time," Allen pointed out.

The brokers who owned pets also had stress-related rises in blood pressure, but these rises were only half as high as those seen in the petless group. And with pets present, the broker owners had average systolic pressures (the first number in a reading, indicating pressure as the heart beats) of just 130 mm Hg -- well within the normal healthy range. Stress-related peaks in diastolic pressure (the second number in a reading, indicating the pressure between beats) were reduced by similar levels.

Pets may even outperform human companions when it comes to controlling hypertension. People with pets don't feel they're being evaluated. They're loved and accepted (by their pets)."

Reference Source 89

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