They have been credited with helping the sick recover and bringing couples closer together. Now keeping a pet has been shown to lower blood pressure levels in over-stressed people better than drugs used to treat hypertension.
A researcher from the University of New York at Buffalo told the American Heart Association on Sunday that her study of 48 stockbrokers had shown those with a cat or dog nearby experienced half the increase in blood pressure when put under stress of those who did not own a pet.
Karen Allen, a research scientist in medicine, said: "We have shown over and over that it is beneficial to be with a pet when you are under stress. These results are dramatic and significant."
The stockbrokers made more than Pounds 140,000 a year and lived alone. All of the volunteers involved in the study suffered from high blood pressure and took
medication to tackle it. "Their jobs are incredibly stressful. They are on the stock exchange floor, shouting, always on the phone," Dr Allen said.
The volunteers had their blood pressure measured after a series of stress-inducing exercises. They were then given lisinopril, an ACE inhibitor used to treat hypertension, to return their blood pressure to normal levels.
Half of the group then got a cat or dog. Six months later, they all underwent the same stress tests.
Those who had their cat or dog in the room during the test had half the stress response compared with the petless stockbrokers.
The reason lies in the social
support that a pet can offer its owner, said Dr Allen. She had been working on the impact that owning a pet has on stress for a decade,
indicating that they can substitute for human companionship and provide psychological benefits
similar to those offered by people. Dr Allen added: "When we told the group that did not have pets about the findings, many went out and got them."