Studies strongly suggest that the tactile act of petting a dog can lower blood pressure. Petting a dog elevates levels of serotonin and dopamine -- nerve transmitters known to have calming properties -- which helps to reduce stress and lower blood pressure.
The "Pet Effect"
A study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) showed that petting a dog lowers a person's blood pressure, a phenomenon known as the "pet effect." In the NCBI study, 60 college students had their blood pressure and heart rates monitored while they interacted with dogs. When they petted the animals, their BPs were lower than when they talked to the dog, which means that touch, rather than cognition, was the major component of the pet effect.
A study conducted by the University of Missouri-Columbia and funded by The Skeeter Foundation showed that when 50 dog owners and 50 non-dog owners sat in a room for 15 to 39 minutes with their own dog, a friendly but strange dog, and a robotic dog, the dogs' BPs dropped immediately, while the humans' BPs dropped approximately 10 percent 15 to 30 minutes into the experiment. The study showed that serotonin levels increased even more so for the dog owners who interacted with their own dogs.
In 1995, Erika Friedman at the University of Maryland Hospital conducted a study that showed that heart attack patients with dogs were eight times more likely to still be alive a year later than patients without dogs. A 1999 study conducted by the State University of New York at Buffalo found that stock brokers with high BPs who added a dog or cat to their lives were able to reduce their stress levels.
Other Healthy Benefits
In case lowering blood pressure isn't enough, the tactile magic of petting dogs -- whether yours or someone else's--offers other health benefits associated with high blood pressure. For example, loneliness, depression and other stress-related disorders, all of which can lead to elevated blood pressure, can be eased just by touching or petting a canine companion. Just as the hormone serotonin is raised and makes a person feel relaxed, the hormone cortisol is lowered and reduces stress.
Debra Levy has been writing for more than 30 years. She has had fiction and nonfiction published in various literary journals. Levy holds an M.A. in English from Indiana University and an M.F.A. in creative writing/fiction from the Bennington Writing Seminars.