November 4th is “Stress Awareness Day,” a day to take a breather and know you’re not in this alone. Alleviating stress is widely publicized – we know from doctors, scientists, and many more experts that exercise, nutrition, and quality of life directly affect our stress levels. Did you know pets help too?
The American Institute of Stress says, “The pet-health link has been well established for relationships with dogs, cats, birds, mammals, reptiles, aquarium fish and horses.” By caring and looking after other living things, we can develop quite a buffer against stress, depression and loneliness. Additionally, studies show that touch therapy (petting) and interaction with pets releases the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and decrease production of cortisol. In a 2001 study titled “Pet Ownership, but Not ACE Inhibitor Therapy, Blunts Home Blood Pressure Responses to Mental Stress,” researchers discovered that pet parents had lower blood pressure during times of mental stress compared to those patients without pets.
The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) confirms this as well; Bob Vetere, chairman at HABRI and the Pet Leadership Council (PLC), says, “Research has shown that pets support child health and development, promote healthy aging, improve heart health, and also help families dealing with cancer, autism and PTSD.” And it’s true; studies show that pet parents have better odds of surviving for at least a year after having a heart attack.
HABRI’s Pet Effect dives deep into the subject of mental health, and how pets can help alleviate stress in a person’s life. By harnessing subjects’ emotional states, HABRI conducted tests to measure the impact of pets on stress levels. They discovered that the companionship of a pet was critical to buffering psychological responses to stress and the chemical reactions in the brain (the “bio-behavioral stress response”). Pet parents perceived less stress and anxiety during testing.
HABRI believes so strongly in the addition of a pet in people’s lives that they recently awarded Texas Tech University with a grant to study the stress and academic performance in children with autism. A study in 2016 found that dogs de-stress the families of autistic children, whereas families without did not see a reduction in stress.
So while there is hard science to back it up, like the warm and fuzzy feeling you get from playing and petting a pet is probably the oxytocin, there’s the reality of pet parenthood: dogs get you out of the house, exercising, and lead you to meeting other pet parents; cats provide hours of companionship and snuggles (and conversation, if you’re so inclined to speak felinese). So instead of getting worked up, you work out and then chill out. Is there anything pets don’t do for us?
To find out more about HABRI’s revolutionary work to scientifically document the health benefits of companion animals; visit habri.org.