Nearly 60 per cent of Canadian households own at least one pet, and the pet industry is booming — in Canada, it is estimated to generate up to five billion dollars a year, with continued growth projected.
It’s a simple fact — people love their pets.
Our pets play an important role in our lives, and the animal-human bond is one that has many benefits that extend beyond the love and companionship all pets bring. There are many studies that show that pets are good for our hearts — in more ways than one.
When tracking blood pressure, researchers have determined that the simple act of petting an animal or even watching fish swim in an aquarium can lower blood pressure. One study, conducted at the State University of New York at Buffalo, found that stockbrokers with high blood pressure problems who had adopted a cat or dog had lower blood pressure levels than those without pets.
In another study, researchers followed 369 heart attack survivors, and found higher mortality rates in those who owned a dog. More recently, a similar study involving cat owners and heart attack survival rates found cat owners are more likely to survive a heart attack than non-cat owners.
The Minnesota Stroke Institute conducted a study that followed 4,000 cat owners over a period of 10 years. This study concluded that owning a cat can drastically reduce the chances of heart disease, and that people who owned a cat were 30 per cent less likely to suffer a heart attack.
Damon Marsh, a physician’s assistant at Ogden Regional Medical Center, followed 240 married couples with pets, and found lowered stress levels and lowered blood pressure in couples with pets, when compared with non-pet owners.
Even the presence of animals can make a difference in our cardiovascular health.
In a study that looked at the impact of visitors on hospital patients, heart pressure dropped by 10 per cent when a patient was visited by a volunteer with a dog. Heart pressure actually increased by three per cent when patients had only a human visitor, and by five per cent in patients that had no visitor at all.
Yet another study concluded that 20 minutes of interaction with a dog in a pet therapy session increases oxytocin levels by about 20 per cent. Ocytocin is a hormone that helps protect the cardiovascular system, and helps the body to heal. (Ocytocin also helps us feel happy.)
The American Heart Association acknowledges that owning a pet is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. Even the National Center for Infectious Diseases acknowledges the health benefits of pet ownership, indicating that pets can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels and overall stress from feeling lonely.
Pets are more than heartwarming — there are many studies that have concluded there are actual health benefits to pet ownership. Our pets are good for our hearts!
Dana Grove is an animal lover who works with several pet organizations in Brandon.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 13, 2014