The “Pawsitive” Power of Pets.
Pets can do more than provide us with companionship and unconditional love. They can comfort us. And even heal us.
Interacting with animals can help with many physical and mental issues. It’s been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support and boost your mood.
Petting a dog or cat releases a number of feel-good endorphins that produce a calming effect. And this can help alleviate pain, reduce stress and improve your overall psychological state.
Pet therapy is here to stay.
Pet therapy refers to the guided interaction between a person and a trained animal. The animal’s handler is involved, too. The purpose of pet therapy is to help someone recover from or cope with a health problem or mental disorder.
As interest in pet therapy continues to grow, expect to see even more therapy animals in places like hospitals, pediatric care units, schools and assisted living facilities. Dogs and cats are the most common therapy animals. But fish, guinea pigs and horses are sometimes used as well.
Who can benefit from pet therapy?
- People receiving cancer treatment
- Residents in long-term care facilities
- People hospitalized with chronic heart failure
- People with dementia
- Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder
- Children having physical or dental procedures
- Stroke victims and people doing physical therapy to regain motor skills
- People with mental health disorders
What does science say about pet therapy?
Here’s a look at some of the positive health benefits of human-animal interactions.
The Physical Health Benefits:
- Lowers blood pressure and improves cardiovascular health.
- Reduces the amount of medications some people need.
- Slows breathing in anxious individuals.
- Diminishes overall physical pain.
- Releases many hormones, including phenylethylamine, which have the same effect as chocolate.
- Improves the social interactions of children with autism.
The Mental Health Benefits:
- Petting an animal promotes the release of serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin – hormones that can play a part in elevating moods.
- Lowers anxiety because of its calming effects.
- Provides comfort and relaxation.
- Reduces loneliness and isolation by providing companionship.
- Increases mental stimulation – assists in memory recall and helps sequence temporal events in patients with head injuries and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Can provide an escape or happy distraction.