If just the idea of a happily wagging tail makes you feel better right now, you’re not alone. Many studies have found that pets can help reduce the amounts of stress people feel. They may also help reduce blood pressure, increase your exercise level (Fido can’t go on a walk alone!), and provide unconditional love and support.
Anybody who has owned a pet already knows that all of these things are true. Where pets really shine, though, is in new animal therapy programs.
Animal, or pet, therapy is the practice of bringing pets into hospitals or other high-stress environments in order to help patients. One study, published in Pain Medicine, looked specifically at the role of pet therapy for chronic pain patients. In the study, patients were allowed to sit with therapy dogs while they waited for their treatment. A control group stayed in the waiting area. Researchers found that time spent with a therapy dog significantly improved pain, mood, and other types of distress for patients. These benefits were found in patients, but also in their family, friends, and pain clinic staff.
Nathan Adelson Hospice in Las Vegas also relies on their pet therapy team to improve the comfort of patients in the hospice and reduce stress levels for staff. Over 20 dogs, and one cat, help out in the program. Even better, the majority of the dogs on the therapy team are pets that have been rescued from shelters, thus helping out both patients and shelter animals.
In another instance of pets being used for good, Emory University brings in therapy pets during super stressful finals week to help students relax. Many students also report that the therapy pet time helps them get a better perspective about the amount of stress that they do have, and refocus on studying. One student noted “I have dogs at home, but my parents live overseas, so they are very far away. I spent 18 hours at the library yesterday, so I just booked my appointments early in the day to make sure I got here and got to studying. This is the happiest I’ve been all week,” he said, stroking the dog’s neck.
Of course, owning pets means more responsibilities that can lead to more stress. Before adopting a pet, consider how you will be able to care for it. If the financial and time concerns are too much, you may be able to “borrow” your friends’ or families’ pets for a bit of play time. You can also volunteer at a shelter, like the Nevada SPCA, to help out and have some quality dog-bonding time too!
Do you own a pet? Do they help your stress levels?
Image by Thomas Leuthard via Flickr