The two cats in our house are my favorite co-workers (okay, they’re my only co-workers as I work from home!). And while I love playing and cuddling with them just as much as hubby, one of my favorite things is hearing them purr as I pet them. So, I knew that being with our fur babies was great but now I know the research on how petting your cat or dog can reduce stress works exactly. Let me explain.
That special bond
Did you know that cats have been with humans since 8000 BC and dogs’ relationships with people date back 40,000 years? The bond between human and dog or cat is unlike anything else and the research shows the effect of a hug or the petting motion on the brain is doing us good.
Serotonin and petting animals: What one dog study found
The University of Missouri-Columbia released a study that shows petting an animal releases serotonin in the brain and can boost mood. Of course, the particulars vary by animal and human, yet the research indicates that hormonal changes happen when a person and dog interact that could aid in coping with depression and some stress-related issues.
Furthermore, more seratonin links to high mental alertness, better sleep quality, and less pain sensitivity than lower levels of this neurotransmitter. By understanding more about the postive impact on humans from petting cats and dogs, researchers can start to advance dialogue on animal-assisted therapies.
A great advancement would be if more insurance companies start to include this kind of therapy as a covered medical intervention. Then, when doctors prescribe that type of therapy, any associated costs of the therapy could be reimbursed by insurers to claimants.
For the Missouri study mentioned above, 50 dog owners (18 years old and above) were put into a quiet room for 15-39 minutes with 3 dogs: their own dog, a friendly but new-to-them dog, and a robotic dog. Interestingly, electronic versions of Spot may be useful as a way for seniors to enjoy the positive effects of having animals when they cannot fully care for the real version, such as when they require in-home care like Spectrum Health Care.
The researchers found that the human’s blood pressure levels dipped 10% during the session, after 15-30 minutes of petting the pooch. Furthermore, serotonin levels increased when interacting with the person’s own dog but not with the new-to-them animal. As for the robotic dog, serotonin decreased, rather than increased, during the interaction.
What’s clear here is the psychological effect of the animal bond. The changes in serotonin explain that relaxing effect you might feel when petting your dog. Of course, this research isn’t telling you to stop using your anti-depressants or other meds. Instead, spending time with a pet could be great for your mood and help comfort you when you need it, in tandem with what your doctor prescribes as best for you.
Petting your cat can reduce stress too!
Now back to the felines in my life, and yours too. A recent study from Washington State University focused on 249 students, placing them into four groups. One group was allowed to pet and play with cats and dogs for 10 minutes, while group #2 watched this activity while awaiting their turn.
Based on the saliva samples taken from the students through the day, the researchers found lower levels of cortisol in the first group than the second one. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that tyically releases in response to stress. Yes, that result was seen after merely 10 minutes.
And here’s another intriguing fact. Cats purr within 25-150 Hertz, which is a range known for having optimal healing frequencies. In particular, research on frequencies shows that the low frequencies of 25 and 50 Hz associate with promotion of fracture healing, for example.
Furthermore, the purring is calming and decreases symptoms of breathing difficulties for both human and cat. Yes, there’s healing power in that purr.
Final words on research, stress, and petting your cat or dog
It’s important to qualify what’s been written above. While you enjoy interacting with your fur child, it’s important to note that any changes to stress you feel are going to differ from someone else. That’s just part of individuals being uniquely different and the bond between you both being special too.
Also, there’s obviously far more research than included here on the benefits for physical and mental health of petting your cat or puppy. So while I’ve pointed out studies showing the stress-reducing impact of stroking, it’s not an exhaustive research review by any means.
Lastly, be kind to your pet, who is loving and can be very headstrong too if they’re anything like our ginger kitty! Provide doggy with healthy dog chews, such as https://healthy-chews.com/mini-wonder-snaxx-vanilla-yorgurt-strawberry/, that don’t risk choking or digestion problems.
Furthermore, while petting your cat does your mind a world of good, avoid incessent petting that could be making your cat anxious. Not every cat likes being stroked so pay attention to what your feline is saying and be kind to this member of the family.