The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of the presence of friends, spouses, and pets on cardiovascular reactivity to psychological and physical stress.
Cardiovascular reactivity was examined among 240 married couples, half of whom owned a pet. Mental arithmetic and cold pressor were performed in one of four randomly assigned social support conditions: alone, with pet or friend (friend present for non-pet owners), with spouse, with spouse and pet/friend.
Relative to people without pets, people with pets had significantly lower heart rate and blood pressure levels during a resting baseline, significantly smaller increases (ie, reactivity) from baseline levels during the mental arithmetic and cold pressor, and faster recovery. Among pet owners, the lowest reactivity and quickest recovery was observed in the pet-present conditions.
People perceive pets as important, supportive parts of their lives, and significant cardiovascular and behavioral benefits are associated with those perceptions.