A 2003 study in the American Journal of Cardiology found that men who had heart attacks were more likely to be alive after four years if they owned a dog. In a 1999 study, half of a group of 48 stockbrokers with hypertension were told to adopt a dog or a cat. After six months, the pet owners showed significantly lower blood pressure than the control group.
How are pets so healing? "Your dog doesn't judge you," says Stanley Coren, Ph.D., psychologist, professor at the University of British Columbia, and author of Why Does My Dog Act That Way? (Free Press, 2006). "Pets give you affection and support, whether you've earned it or not." Animals can also be a social link to others, provide companionship to the lonely, and help reduce stress through physical touch.
A sable collie named Casey helped Lisa Genereux, a 42-year-old mom from Long Island, N.Y., battle depression when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2002. "He was so cheerful and playful. It took my mind off everything," she says. Although Genereux still struggles with cancer, Casey keeps her hopeful.
A pair of cats, Nelly and Ruby, have provided unwavering support for Natasha Underwood (not her real name), a journalist in New York City, who in the last year has undergone treatment for a precancerous breast condition. While the 38-year-old has also turned to family, her kitties have kept her company through recovery from three lumpectomies, a mastectomy, and reconstruction of her left breast. "They accept you," she says. "My cats don't care if I lose a boob. They really don't."