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Presence of a pet dog and human cardiovascular responses to mild mental stress

Abstract

The mechanisms underlying the possible cardiovascular benefits of pet ownership have not been established. Using a randomized design, the effect of a friendly dog on cardiovascular and autonomic responses to acute, mild mental stress was investigated. Seventy-two subjects (aged 40±14 y; mean±SD) participated. Rest was alternated with mental stress during four 10-minute periods. An unknown dog was randomly selected to be present during the first or the second half of the study. Blood pressure (BP) and heart rate (HR) were monitored continuously and cardiac autonomic function assessed using spectral analysis of heart period. Heart period variability data were expressed as the ratio of 0.1 Hz to respiratory or high frequency variation (LF/HF). Whereas mental stress significantly increased BP and HR in the absence of the dog (from 125/71 ±3/2 to 133/75±3/2 mm Hg; p<0.001), the presence of the dog had no effect on these variables. Heart period LF/HF ratio was lowest in dog owners in the presence of the dog (dog present 2.8±0.3 versus dog absent 3.4±0.4; p<0.001) and in non-dog owners in the absence of the dog (dog present 3.4±0.4 versus dog absent 2.8±0.3; p<0.001). In conclusion, a friendly but unfamiliar dog does not influence BP or HR either at rest or during mild mental stress. Cardiac autonomic profile was most favorable in the presence of the dog for dog owners and in the absence of the dog for non-owners.

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Correspondence to Bronwyn A. Kingwell Ph.D..

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This work was supported by Petcare Information and Advisory Service, Victoria, Australia.

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Kingwell, B.A., Lomdahl, A. & Anderson, W.P. Presence of a pet dog and human cardiovascular responses to mild mental stress. Clinical Autonomic Research 11, 313–317 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02332977

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Key words

  • blood pressure
  • heart rate
  • blood pressure variability
  • heart rate variability
  • autonomic function