If you own a pet, whether it is a cat, dog, hamster snake or whatever, do you feel that spending time with them is some what therapeutic? As though stroking them or even talking to them has reduced anxiety or stress, or do they change your emotional state?
There is already a form of treatment to improve patient’s social, emotional and cognitive functioning called animal-assisted therapy (AAT). It has also been used for educational and motivational purposes. AAT has shown to be effective in individuals who have been deprived of safety, love and social interaction. Animals do not speak and patients who struggle to talk to therapists often find that animals are less socially intimidating (Beck & Katcher, 1996). There has been much evidence to suggest animals improve a patient’s ability to communicate to others and improve their social skills, but how effective are they when it comes to stress?
The following study was conducted to measure if owning a pet affected blood pressure. Patients were measured before and during Angiotensin Converting Enzyme inhibitor therapy. ACE therapy is a drug treatment for people with high blood pressure. There were forty-eight hypertensive participants in this study which were randomized into two groups. The experimental group were assigned pet ownership and a lisinopril dosage (20mg/d). The control group received the same amount of lisinopril but no pet ownership. Blood pressure, heart rate, and plasma renin activity were recorded everyday. Before the intervention both groups showed similar measures at baseline, there was no significant difference between them. Results found that the lisinopril had lowered resting blood pressure in both groups; however responses to mental stress were significantly lower in those who had pet ownership. They concluded that ACE therapy alone does lower resting blood pressure, however, it can go further with pet ownership as this reduces the patient’s blood pressure response to mental stress as well (Allen, Shykoff & Izzo, 2001).
Research like this suggests that there is something therapeutic about owning a pet and this could be due to a number of reasons. Pets are usually nice to look at (this is if you like pets) and they often show affection and unconditional love. If you take a dog for a walk or even just play with them, this will take your mind off anything which has been stressing you out recently. This is not to say it will resolve all of your problems but sometimes time out from the world can help reduce stress. Owning a dog will encourage you to exercise more, and according to Cooper et al exercise will help relieve stress too by releasing endorphins in the brain (as cited in Milkman, 1990, p.38).
If pets do lower are stress levels then maybe student accommodation should allow us to have pets, it’s just a thought.
Allen, K., Shykoff, B. E., & Izzo, J. L. (2001). Pet Ownership, but Not ACE Inhibitor Therapy, Blunts Home Blood Pressure Responses to Mental Stress, American Heart Associations Scientific Contributions, Medicine.
Beck, A. M., Katcher, A. H. (1996). Between Pets and People: the Importance of Animal Companionship, Medical, Purdue University Press.
Milkman, H. B., Sederer, L. I. (1990). Treatment choices for alcoholism and substance abuse, Psychology, pg 38.