New research says a pet dog or cat may help control hypertension in older adults.

As the population ages, the number of older adults living with hypertension is rising dramatically. Uncontrolled high blood pressure increases cardiovascular and renal mortality. Lowering blood pressure is the most important therapeutic goal in treating hypertension and any reduction in blood pressure has significant benefits for older adults.

Given the above, researchers from the University of Maryland set out to evaluate the impact of the presence of pet dogs and cats on ambulatory blood pressure during the daily lives of 32 independently living, older pet owners with pre- to mild hypertension. They measured ambulatory blood pressure, because it is considered a better predictor of hypertension-related morbidity and mortality than office blood pressure. Of those observed, 21 had dogs, 8 had cats and 3 had both. Twenty-nine were women aged 50–83 years with blood pressure of 120–150/80–100 mmHg (or < 150/100) and on anti-hypertensive medication.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, mood, and whether the pet and/or another person was present in the room (indoors) or in close proximity (outdoors) with the owner at each assessment.They found that average ambulatory blood pressure was significantly different when pets were present after controlling for participant's mood, activity intensity, location, and the presence of other people. The presence of a dog was associated with lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure and of a cat was associated with lower diastolic and higher systolic blood pressure during their owners' normal daily lives.This finding suggests that pets, especially dogs, may be effective as an adjunctive intervention to slow the development or progression of hypertension in older adults. The authors said that a “comparison of ambulatory blood pressure of pet owners with non-owners during their daily lives is warranted and underway.”“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.”  

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