Spending Time with Your Dog may Help Lower Your Blood Pressure

Dec 02, 2013, 09:00 ET from Mars Petcare and Waltham

WALTHAM ON THE WOLDS, England, December 2, 2013 /PRNewswire/ --

New research suggests the presence of pet dogs may help to control hypertension in older adults.

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.

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"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

About the WALTHAM® Centre for Pet Nutrition

Celebrating 50 years of innovative science, the WALTHAM® Centre for Pet Nutrition serves as a leading scientific authority in advancing the frontiers of research into the nutrition and health of companion animals. Located in Leicestershire, England, the renowned state-of-the-art science institute for Mars Petcare generates knowledge that enables the development of innovative products that meet pets' needs in a practical way. Since the publication of its first original research in 1963, WALTHAM® has pioneered many important breakthroughs in the field of pet nutrition and human-animal interaction, resulting in more than 1,700 publications, including over 600 peer-review scientific papers. Today, WALTHAM® continues to collaborate with the world's foremost scientific institutes, driving Mars Petcare's Vision to make A BETTER WORLD FOR PETS® and providing the science and expertise that underpins leading Mars Petcare brands such as WHISKAS®, PEDIGREE®, NUTRO®, TRILL®, CESAR®, SHEBA®, DREAMIES®, AQUARIAN®, WINERGY®, BANFIELD Pet Hospital® and the ROYAL CANIN® brand.

About Mars, Incorporated

In 1911, Frank C. Mars made the first Mars candies in his Tacoma, Washington kitchen and established Mars' first roots as a confectionery company. In the 1920s, Forrest E. Mars, Sr. joined his father in business and together they launched the MILKY WAY® bar. In 1932, Forrest, Sr. moved to the United Kingdom with a dream of building a business based on the objective of creating a "mutuality of benefits for all stakeholders" - this objective serves as the foundation of Mars, Incorporated today. Based in McLean, Virginia, Mars has six business segments including Petcare, Chocolate, Wrigley, Food, Drinks, Symbioscience, and more than 72,000 Associates worldwide that are putting its Principles into action to make a difference for people and the planet through its performance.

Mars brands include: Petcare - PEDIGREE®, ROYAL CANIN®, WHISKAS®, BANFIELD Pet Hospital®, NUTRO®, SHEBA®, DREAMIES® and CESAR®; Chocolate - M&M'S®, SNICKERS®, DOVE®, GALAXY®, MARS®, MILKY WAY® and TWIX®; Wrigley - DOUBLEMINT®, EXTRA®, ORBIT® and 5™ chewing gums, SKITTLES® and STARBURST® candies, and ALTOIDS® AND LIFESAVERS® mints. Food - UNCLE BEN'S®, DOLMIO®, EBLY®, MASTERFOODS®, SEEDS OF CHANGE® and ROYCO®; Drinks - ALTERRA ® Coffee Roasterscoffee, THE BRIGHT TEA CO.® tea, DOVE®/GALAXY® Hot Chocolate, and FLAVIA® brewer; Symbioscience - COCOAVIA®, WISDOM PANEL® and SERAMIS®. 

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SOURCE Mars Petcare and Waltham