Human and Companion Animals: A Historical Perspective
3. Four Major Research Areas
3.1. Heart Disease and the Human-Companion Animal Bond
- Pet ownership is correlated with lower systolic and often diastolic blood pressures. Just one of many examples, in one randomized study, ambulatory blood pressures decreased significantly (p < 0.001) in a patient group that adopted pet dogs. In a later follow-up study, all participants (including the “pet-deferred” group) had adopted dogs with similar reduction in systolic blood pressure .
- Due to the increased physical activity of many dog owners, the level of obesity appears to be reduced in most studies. One mechanism whereby dog ownership may assist in weight management programs is the role they play in social support, which is a powerful predictor of adoption and maintenance of behavior change (e.g., a weight loss program). Besides providing encouragement and motivation to walk, concerns about safety while out walking may be reduced [23,25,26].
- Pet ownership may be an independent modulator of cardiac autonomic imbalances. The mechanisms responsible for this interaction are complex, but the current hypothesis links improved mood and emotional state to decreased central and regional autonomic activity, improved endothelial function and thereby more appropriate blood pressure and reduced cardiac arrhythmias, with pets conferring more significant positive effects than drugs [27,28,29].
- Cardioprotective effects may be conferred on pet-owners versus those without pets. Independent of the severity of cardiovascular disease, dog ownership in one study decreased the mortality of cardiovascular re-occurrence by ~ fourfold .
3.2. Cancer and the Human-Companion Animal Bond
3.3. Autism and the Human-Companion Animal Bond
- A South African study demonstrated increases in β-endorphins, oxytocin, prolactin, β-phenylethylamine and dopamine after positive interactions with dogs . These hormones have been associated with blood pressure regulation, analgesia, stress relief, joy, pleasure and bonding behavior.
- Elevated levels of oxytocin have been particularly associated with positive interactions with animals and oxytocin is seen to be a potentially key neuropeptide in ASD. Increased oxytocin levels are associated with improved bonding and interactions with others, more appropriate trusting, less repetitive behaviors, reduced aggression, more empathy and improved learning .
3.4. Economic Benefits of the Human-Companion Animal Bond
Conflicts of Interest
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