One research scientist at the State University of New York at Buffalo has been especially active in studying the contributions pets make to our lives. Karen Allen studied 48 stockbrokers, half of whom were assigned a dog or a cat, and half of whom didn't get a dog or a cat. All of them were being treated for hypertension, and all had lived alone for more than five years.
The pets had such a dramatic cardiovascular effect over a six-month period that many of the participants who weren't assigned pets went out and got one after the study was completed, Allen told the American Heart Association's 1999 convention.
In other research projects, Allen has found that couples with pets are closer and interact more than couples without pets. But she also found that in some cases, a pet may be more helpful at relieving stress than a spouse or close friend.
Of course, there's a downside to everything, and pets are no different. Your pet may snore more loudly than your spouse, for example, and that's not good for any relationship.
The Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center in Rochester, Minn., studied 300 patients, half of whom had a dog or a cat, to see if the pets contributed to their sleeping problems.
The study found that 60 percent of the patients with pets allowed their pets to sleep in their bedrooms, and most of those slept in the beds alongside their owners. About 53 percent reported that their sleep was interrupted every night, but nearly always for less than 20 minutes.
Incidentally, 21 percent of the dogs snored, compared to only 7 percent of the cats.
One problem plaguing many pet owners was addressed last year by researchers at Ohio State University in Columbus: How do you get rid of fleas without poisoning the entire house?
The answer, according to Glen Needham, associate professor of entomology, is a vacuum cleaner. Upright, cannister, whatever. A good vacuum cleaner, he said, can wreak havoc on Ctenocephalides felis, the most common flea that nibbles on pets as well as their owners.
"No matter what vacuum a flea gets sucked into, it's probably a one-way trip," Needham said in releasing the study.
It's not clear yet what caused the fatalities. Were they beaten to death by the brushes? Did the blast of wind prove too much?
"We didn't do a post-mortem, so we don't know for sure," Needham said. "But it appears that the physical abuse they took caused them to perish."
Presumably, the vacuum should be used only on the floor and upholstery, not the pet.