Pets can play an important role in the life of a person who is single, widowed or simply lonely. Studies of heart patients suggest that pet ownership confers many of the same benefits as person-to-person social interaction. When hospitalized patients are visited by therapy dogs, their levels of stress and anxiety diminish, as do blood pressure and blood levels of stress hormones. At Cleveland Clinic we use canine greeters to put patients and their families at ease. This concept even bridges the gap between the medical and legal professions: students at Yale Law School can “check out” Monty, a therapy dog, to provide them with thirty minutes of stress relief.
For heart patients, canine companionship can produce long-term benefits. In one large study of heart attack survivors, both pet ownership and a high overall level of social support were associated with a greater chance of survival at one year. The pet benefit was observed only in dog owners, though; cat lovers actually had slightly decreased survival rates. This anomaly may relate to the exercise dog owners get from walking their pets.