Stress Less with Pets’ Help

When we’re feeling stressed by life or job circumstances, physical movement can be a great balm for your mind and soul. But some stress is just hard to outrun — it may be coming from a chronic problem that isn’t going to be easily resolved, or you just have a more difficult time dealing with some stressors.

If you have pets you probably naturally turn to them as a source of comfort as well as joy, and research has discovered many ways your animals can have such a powerfully positive effect on you:

  • A 2001 study published in the American Heart Association journal focused on stockbrokers who lived alone, experienced job stress and had high blood pressure. All of them began taking ACE inhibitors, a commonly prescribed blood pressure medication, and half were randomly assigned to adopt a dog or cat. The ACE inhibitors worked equally well for both groups, most of the time. But during stressful episodes, those who didn’t have pets saw blood pressure spikes more than twice as high as participants who’d adopted pets.
  • Another study by the same research team replicated the results and they were published in the same journal in 2018 after 48 participants in high-stress occupations were given ACE inhibitors, and half were assigned to adopt a dog.
  • A web-based survey of 199 people living with HIV, nearly 70% of them dog owners, found the dog owners were three times less likely to suffer from depression and more likely to report having reliable social support. These characteristics are also tied to better adherence to antiviral drug regimens and better health for those with HIV, the researchers noted. The study was published by JMIR Publications in 2017.
  • In 2017 the Wiley Online Library posted research about children ages 7-12 whose parents were either assigned or not assigned to adopt a dog. Kids who had pets showed lower perceived stress and increases in cortisol while with their pets than without, though cortisol levels were reduced more by the child petting the dog than by the dog’s attention-seeking behavior.

Photo: Blushing Cactus Photography
From left: JoAnne Giberson with Walker and Murray, Tawnie Moore with Gizelle and Peaches, Mike Beraudo with Koka, and Duane Jozwiakowski with Boulder.