High blood pressure is considered one of the leading causes of death and illness in the western world. It can lead to serious heart disease and, in extreme cases, to fatal strokes. A new study conducted by Dr Michel Balaish, the epidemiologist of the Agriculture Ministry's veterinary services, has revealed that man's best friend could perhaps be off assistance also in this case. The study revealed that the blood pressure of children in whose home a dog can be found is lower than that of children who do not come into contact with dogs.

The study was conducted in cooperation with the Gertner Institute for Epidemiology, the children's ward at the Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The researchers distributed questionnaires to the parents of 228 children in first to third grades at two elementary schools in Shoham.

In the first stage, the parents were asked whether the child has a dog at home and if so, what kind of relationship the child had developed with the animal. At the same time, the parents were asked about the child's medical history and hereditary diseases in the family. The children themselves underwent tests of weight and height.

In the second stage, the pupils' blood pressure was measured. "Each child went twice for a blood pressure reading in a relaxed manner, that is, he sat relaxing for five minutes and refrained from any kind of activity," said Balaish. "After that, we did repeated tests of the same children in an atmosphere that resembled moderate pressure - they were asked to read aloud a number during the test."

After a comparison of the test results, the researchers concluded that the blood pressure of those children who had a relationship with a dog was lower than those who had no dog.

According to Balaish, there have been numerous studies about the connection between raising dogs and the health of adults, but this is the first time that the connection between blood pressure in children and raising a dog was tested in a study.

"The professional literature states that one third of the children who suffer from high blood pressure will suffer from this problem when they are adults," he said. "This is a characteristic of importance for one's health and one which has implications also for the children's well being in the future."

Balaish is aware that among the vast majority of children aged six to nine, cases of high blood pressure are rare. "Only a few children who were examined in the framework of the study were found to be suffering from unreasonable blood pressure and we brought this to the attention of the parents. But under all circumstances, children in whose home a dog is raised and who take care of it, feed it and play with it - have lower blood pressure than those who do not have a dog."

The reasons for this, Balaish said, "can be attributed, among other things, to the fact that a child who takes care of a dog does more physical activity because he goes on walks with the dog and plays with it."