Study shows children who are raised with a dog have lower blood pressure

"Our dog Bamba gives me a sense of security and good feeling. I feel really happy with her and when I'm sad she comforts me."

By REUTERS
June 5, 2019 09:11
Dog [Illustrative]

Dog [Illustrative]. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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A new Israeli study authored by Dr. Michel Balaish, Director of the Veterinary Institute at the Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development, has discovered that the blood pressure of children who were raised with a dog in the house were lower than children who were raised without one, according to Israeli media.

It is wildly known that having an animal in the house can greatly reduce stress and anxiety among pet owners and can even lead to a longer life. In fact, some doctors even prescribe therapy dogs or recommend that a patient adopt an animal if their anxiety or depression is severe enough, as opposed to normal medications.

Although it has been discovered in past studies that introducing a dog into a room will immediately reduce the blood pressure of a young child, there have been no studies conducted that have determined if children growing up with a dog in the house do in fact have lower blood pressure, according to Israel Hayom.

The observational clinical trial had a sample size of 229 children, ages six to nine, chosen from two different schools in the Shoham area, just southeast of Tel Aviv. The children's blood pressure were checked at three different times throughout the day - during class, during relaxation and during times of stress (such as reading an excerpt from a text to the class). The process was tracked through questionnaires and daily diaries the parents of the children kept throughout the process.

The blood pressure of children who raised a dog had an average measurement of 4.5mm Hg during times of stress, whereas the rate dropped as expected during times of relaxation, the difference was not significant to the findings.

"The study shows that raising a dog at home is associated with low blood pressure during stressful situations in children and that owning a dog has added health value," Dr. Blaish explained.

In a related development, UK-based researchers found in that by combining information from different senses dogs form abstract mental representations of positive and negative emotional states in people.

"Our dog Bamba gives me a sense of security and good feeling. I feel really happy with her and when I'm sad she comforts me. It's fun to play and hug her. Sometimes, when I have nothing to do, I just lie with her. I have never lived without a dog in the family and I can not imagine my life any differently," said eight-year-old dog-owner Yaara.

Yaara's statement can be confirmed by previous studies in the past that have shown that dogs can differentiate between human emotions from signs such as facial expressions. However, this is not the same as emotional recognition, according to Dr Kun Guo, from the University of Lincoln’s School of Psychology.

“This is the first empirical experiment that will show dogs can integrate visual and oratory inputs to understand or differentiate human emotion as dog emotion,” Kun told Reuters.

Experiments were carried out by a team of animal behavior experts and psychologists at the University of Lincoln, UK, and University of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

They presented 17 untrained domestic dogs with images and sounds conveying either positive or negative emotional expressions in humans and dogs.

The dogs used in the testing were unfamiliar with the procedure; avoiding any chance of conditioning. The vocalization sound accompanying the human faces was also unfamiliar.

“We used Portuguese to British dogs so they weren’t habituated with any words, they weren’t familiar with any words. So, we wanted to see if the dogs could assess the emotional content of the human voices and whether they would actually discriminate the emotional information within them,” explained Natalia De Souza Albuquerque, a PhD student in experimental psychology.

The results, published recently in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, found that dogs spent significantly longer looking at the facial expressions which matched the emotional state of the vocalization, for both human and canine subjects.

“What we found is that when dogs were hearing positive sounds they would look longer to positive faces, both human and dog. And when they were listening to negative sounds they would look longer to negative, angry faces,” added De Souza Albuquerque.

The study shows that dogs can integrate two different sources of sensory information into a perception of emotion in both humans and dogs. This means dogs must have a system of internal categorization of emotional states. Among animal groups, it’s a cognitive ability previously only evidenced in primates.

The researchers believe that the ability to combine emotional cues may be inherent to dogs. As a highly social species, detecting emotions in humans would have helped them in their domestication by people over the generations.

Guo now wants to conduct more experiments in a bid to better understand how man’s canine companions decipher human emotions. “(So) we can see whether dogs can use a human-like principle or human-like strategy to perceive, understand and respond to human emotion,” he said.

In another study, dog owners who walk their pets outside are more likely to have regular exercise habits, regardless of weather, according to a new study.

Regular dog walkers were more active on days with cold, rainy weather - and on days with the worst weather conditions, they had 20 percent higher activity levels and were more active for 30 minutes per day, compared to people who didn’t have dogs.

“As we get older, we decline in the amount of physical activity we get, and we tend to be less active at the time in our lives when it’s best to be active,” said study author Andy Jones of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK.

Jones and colleagues analyzed data collected as part of a large study of community-dwelling adults ages 40 to 79 in Norfolk, UK. Overall, the average age was around 70, and 57 percent were female.

Participants wore accelerometers to record their daily physical activity and sedentary behavior. They also answered questions about environmental conditions, age, education, gender, health status and pet ownership.

Among the more than 3,100 study subjects, 18 percent owned dogs, and two-thirds of those walked their dogs at least once a day. Regular dog walkers were consistently more active, regardless of weather and environmental conditions, and those who reported good health were more likely to be dog owners who walked their dogs regularly.

Overall, daily activity was lower on days with rain, colder temperatures and shorter daylight hours. On dry days, however, regular dog walkers still got outside, even if it was cold. In fact, on average, regular dog walkers were more active on the coldest days than non-regular dog walkers or non-dog-owners were on the warmest days. Regular dog-walkers were also more active on the shortest days than non-walkers and non-owners were on the longest days.

“It’s no surprise that dog walkers are more active, but we were surprised by how big the difference is,” Jones said. “If we could achieve that level of activity with everybody, it would go a long way in dealing with problems of obesity and aging.”

Importantly, even dog-owners who don’t walk their dogs regularly are less sedentary than people without dogs, pointed out Ann Toohey of the University of Calgary in Canada. Toohey, who wasn’t involved with this study, studies aging, dog-walking and neighborhood communities.

“Various aspects of taking care of a dog, such as letting them in and outside, feeding them, playing with them, grooming them and cleaning up after them, may help to explain this,” she told Reuters Health by email. “I think we need to take note and explore further the benefits of pets in daily living.”

“Taking the time to engage in physical activity has important health benefits, and walking is recommended because it is low-cost and can be done alone or with others,” said Angela Curl, who researches environment, the human-animal bond, and older adults’ physical health at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

Curl, who wasn’t involved with this study, told Reuters Health by email, “Dog owners have a visual reminder to get up and exercise that can provide the motivation to walk. Non-dog owners can find alternative ways to engage in physical activity during inclement weather, such as walking indoors.”

Having pets provides many health benefits, whether they be relieving blood pressure, stress, depression or increasing daily exercise.  "Man's best friend" can also help you live longer, in addition to being your best buddy and "goodest" boy.

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