Heart rate variability (HRV) is a noninvasive tool used to evaluate autonomic nervous system function and is affected by age, stress, postural changes, and physical activity. Dog ownership has been associated with higher 24-hr HRV and increased physical activity compared to nonowners. The current pilot study was designed to evaluate the effects of proximity to a dog in real time (minute-by-minute) on older dog caregivers’ HRV measures and stress index during normal daily life over a 24-hr period. Eleven caregivers (56–83 years of age) wore ActiGraph GT9X Link accelerometers and camntech electrocardiogram monitors, and 11 dogs wore PetPace Collars and ActiGraph monitors to determine (a) proximity (absence or presence of Received Signal Strength Indicator, RSSI), (b) heart rate and HRV measures, (c) position (lying vs. sitting vs. standing), and (d) physical activity in the 11 dyads. Twenty-four hour HRV (SDNN index) and physical activity in the caregivers and dogs were related. Stress index was lower, and HRV parameters (SDNN, rMSDD, high frequency power (HF)) were higher when an RSSI signal was detected (presence of dog) compared to no RSSI signal (absence of dog) in the caregivers while inactive (lying + sitting + standing combined). HRV parameters (rMSDD and HF) were lower in the caregivers while standing and sitting compared to lying. The results from this pilot study support the hypothesis that spending time in the presence of a companion dog increases caregivers’ HRV throughout the day and suggest that proximity to a dog may contribute to overall improvements in 24-hr HRV and cardiac health in dog caregivers.
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