Just 10 minutes of stroking a dog or cat can help reduce stress says a study that adds to the growing evidence that having a pet can improve your emotional health. This latest study, carried out by researchers at Washington State University, looked at how students stressed out by exams, deadlines and all the other pressures that come with college life responded to interactions with dogs and cats, and whether such interactions could actually have stress-relieving physiological benefits.
The study found that students’ levels of cortisol – a major stress hormone – were lower after they stroked and played with the animals.
“We already knew that students enjoy interacting with animals, and that it helps them experience more positive emotions,” says Patricia Pendry, co-author of the study and an associate professor in WSU’s Department of Human Development.
“What we wanted to learn was whether this exposure would help students reduce their stress in a less subjective way. And it did, which is exciting because the reduction of stress hormones may, over time, have significant benefits for physical and mental health.”
Pendry’s study was published in AERA Open, an open access journal published by the American Educational Research Association.
So are pet owners calmer and happier than pet-free people? Maybe. But there are several reasons why even devoted animal lovers can’t have a pet. The alternative may be to borrow someone else’s.
There are charities around the UK that need volunteers to walk or feed pets with owners who are elderly or in hospital, for instance. Plus there are websites like Borrow My Doggy and Share Your Pet, which connect pet owners with pet borrowers. If you can make a longer-lasting commitment the RSPCA also needs people to foster animals on a temporary basis.