The Effect of Human-Animal Interaction on Human Cardiovascular Health
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More than 2,150 Americans die from cardiovascular disease (CVD) daily, an average of 1 death every 40 seconds (Go et al., 2014). In any given year, approximately 620,000 Americans suffer their first coronary attack, and 295,000 have a repeat attack. Even though rates of CVD declined between 2000 and 2010 (Go et al., 2014), its impact on healthcare costs and the lives of affected individuals, their families, and the community is substantial. In an attempt to further reduce rates of CVD and improve myocardial infarction (MI) survival rates, researchers extensively studied the effects of various medical and social variables on cardiovascular health, including human-animal contact. Human-animal interaction (HAI) can include temporary contact, regular contact, cohabitation, or ownership. Distinguishing between the different types of contact is crucial, as some studies involve interaction with a friendly but unfamiliar animal (such as visitation programs), while others (including those evaluating MI survival) involve ownership.
Early studies on HAI and cardiovascular health in humans suggested a relationship between pet ownership and cardiovascular health; pet owners were reported as more likely to survive at least one year after an MI. Subsequent studies produced mixed results, so the true effect of pet ownership on cardiovascular health remains unclear. This brief summarizes the current knowledge on the cardiovascular benefits of HAI and the mechanisms by which they may occur. Additionally, suggestions are made for future research and key resources for further study are identified.
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