The Study of Human-Animal Interactions The CAIRC Scholarship Program Summary of the Past Researches
Summary of the Past Scholarship Research
From "Letter from CAIRC" May 2005
Research Theme: "The Health Effects of Pets on the Elderly : a Clinical Physiological Approach"

Masahiko Motooka, Principal Researcher
Nell L,Kennedy, Researcher

School of Veterinary Medicine, Rakuno Gakuen University

Hiroto Koike, Researcher
Tomoyuki Yokoyama, Researcher

Gunma University School of Health Science

Masahiko Motooka and his team provided a clinical physiological look into the healing effects of pets in light of the recent attention being drawn to preventive medicine and health maintenance among the elderly. This research group had already announced findings indicating that walking dogs promotes activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (for the Third CAIRC Scholarship Program). This led to the formation by Mr. Motooka’s group of the hypothesis that the specific mechanism by which pets exert a healing effect is activation of the parasympathetic nerve system. (As a part of the autonomic nerve system, the parasympathetic nerve system works, lower the heart rate, and induces a state of relaxation.) For this project, the group used equipment to monitor the autonomic nerve systems of elderly people while walking dogs or during visits with dogs, and analyzed the resulting neurological changes. The findings indicated that during walks and visits with dogs, measurements showed greater parasympathetic nerve system activity among subjects than when no dogs were present. Dog walks were conducted over a three-day period, and each day brought successive increases in parasympathetic nerve activity.

"One major issue facing our country is the healthcare implications of the need to care medically for the elderly amid an ongoing trend toward an aging society with fewer children." Mr. Motooka said regarding the project. "The benefits of the social support derived from keeping pets is attracting attention as a factor that can help elderly people live healthy lives. The objective of this research is to define medically and physiologically the effects derived from pets. This research result made it clear that the parasympathetic nerve system is activated by spending time with pets. When the parasympathetic nerve system is activated, stress is relieved, making it possible to avoid numerous illnesses. This indicates that pets can be useful from the perspective of preventive medicine for the elderly.