Heart patients can ease anxiety and improve health status by befriending dogs, according to a study.
Researcher Kathie M. Cole, a nurse at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and others studied 76 patients with heart failure, a condition that affects an estimated five million Americans, reports the online edition of The New York Times.
The dogs, from 12 breeds, were screened for behaviour and disease before participating in the study. During the study, the patients were paid three separate types of visits involving a dog, a person or a dog with a person.
Some patients in the first group, Cole said, "began to smile and immediately engaged in conversation with dog and volunteer." Their worries seemed to vanish from their faces, she said.
The researchers examined the patients three times - right before the 12-minute visit, eight minutes into it and four minutes after it was over.
Besides the anxiety measurement, researchers found, patients' levels of epinephrine, a hormone the body generates when under stress, dropped 17 percent when visited by a person and a dog, and two percent when visited by only a person.
Epinephrine levels raised an average of seven percent in the unvisited group in the study, she said.
Pressure in the heart's top left chamber dropped 10 percent after a visit by volunteer and dog. The same pressure rose three percent for those visited by a volunteer and five percent for the unvisited group.
Pressure in the pulmonary artery dropped five percent during and after a visit by volunteer and dog, but rose in the other two groups.
The research is reported at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2005.