Studies have been done for years regarding the physical and mental health effects petting a dog has on humans. However, the realm of pet-assisted therapy is still in its infancy. As researchers learn how and why our bodies respond the way they do when we interact with dogs, the evidence will get more difficult to refute, and dogs may start to appear in more doctors and therapists’ offices.
- In 1995, Erika Friedman at the University of Maryland Hospital conducted a study involving 392 people, which found that heart attack patients with dogs were eight times more likely to be alive a year later than people without dogs.
- In 1999, the State University of New York at Buffalo conducted a study involving 24 stock brokers taking medication for high blood pressure. The researchers found that adding a dog or cat to the stock brokers’ lives helped stabilize and reduce their stress levels.
- In 1999, Swedish researchers reported that children exposed to pets during the first year of life had fewer allergies and less asthma.
- Recently, separate studies reported that walking a dog contributed to a person’s weight loss and that dog walking can be a catalyst for social interaction with other people, a benefit that can help improve our sense of well-being — or even help us meet a future spouse.
More recently, research conducted at the University of Missouri-Columbia suggests the hormonal changes that occur when humans and dogs interact could help people cope with depression and certain stress-related disorders. Preliminary results from a study show that a few minutes of stroking our pet dog prompts a release of a number of “feel good” hormones in humans, including serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin.
In addition, petting our dog results in decreased levels of the primary stress hormone cortisol, the adrenal chemical responsible for regulating appetite and cravings for carbohydrates. The study does state that getting a dog may not completely replace the need for anti-depressants altogether; however the combination of the two may be the most powerful.
And we can’t give all the credit to our four-legged friends…..
Just within the past week the results from the first study of its kind, reports that exposure to fish in an aquarium also has a influential effect on mood. Experts from the National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth University and the University of Exeter assessed people’s physical and mental responses to tanks containing varying levels of fish. The team found that viewing aquarium displays led to noticeable reductions in blood pressure and heart rate, and that higher numbers of fish helped to hold people’s attention for longer and improve their moods.
Deborah Cracknell, PhD Student and Lead Researcher at the National Marine Aquarium, conducted the study and believes it provides an important first step in our understanding: “Fish tanks and displays are often associated with attempts at calming patients in doctors’ surgeries and dental waiting rooms. This study has, for the first time, provided robust evidence that ‘doses’ of exposure to underwater settings could actually have a positive impact on people’s wellbeing.”
If you are fortunate enough to have a dog or a home aquarium, you may already intuitively know these things that researchers are working diligently to empirically prove. However, if you do not have a furry or finned friend, perhaps this may give you incentive to consider an addition to your family.