Does owning a pet reduce stress levels?

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.

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7 thoughts on “Does owning a pet reduce stress levels?

  1. It’s interesting that you suggest student accommodation allowing students to keep pets, as researchers at the Ohio State University (published in the journal of Society and Animals) found that many college students benefit from owning a cat or a dog. Although this may just be for the emotional support that pets provide, it tackles problems such as loneliness which generally reduces unhappiness in students and therefore distracts them from their studies.
    However, death of a pet has proved extremely distressing for individuals so while there is evidence for the benefits of owning a pet at university, the limitations also have to be considered.

  2. In my opinion, owning a pet does help with stress levels because it can help you to release your problems to the world through confiding in yourself, through your pet. Self-talk can help to lower stress levels because of the release of emotions. Pets can also give you a sense of security, especially in certain pets such as dogs, who are protective of their master.

    I believe also, that owning and caring for a pet, in adulthood, triggers emotions from our childhood when playing and looking after dolls or cuddly toys.

    Pets can also be our best friend and part of the family, and we treat them as such. Humans are social creatures, and widening our social circle with pets can help to relieve stress and make us happier. However, pets can sometimes cause more stress than the relieve, whether they are disobedient or more importantly when they die. Pets that have become close to the family and to yourself are a big attachment, and when they pass on you grieve for them as if they were human, because in essence they are as close to you as many human counterparts.

  3. Your blog poses an interesting question. Whilst not everyone would be helped by owning a pet, I believe that pets do help to reduce stress in many different ways. Although many theories haven’t been proven it is believed that pets may be better at reducing high blood pressure than drugs. Pets also encourage owners to get out and exercise (walking the dog) which is also believed to reduce stress. This also enables them to escape from all their daily stresses (work, family etc) and just have some time to themselves to think. Whilst walking dogs, owners are also likely to meet many other dog walkers, which means that they are able to socialise more with other people, which means they can make more friends who are able to help them deal with stress. However whilst these are all big advantages the biggest advantage of pets is that they help people deal with loneliness and they provide unconditional love to their owners. Overall, whilst not everyone likes animals they should be considered as a great help to people suffering from high levels of stress.

  4. I found your blog really interesting, i have never even thought about pets reducing stress before. As the study you found states animals can reduce stress levels. I therefore believe animals would be beneficial if they were an alcohol and drug rehabilitation centres. For example The popular tension reduction (Conger 1956; Sher and Levenson 1982) and self-medication hypotheses (Khantzian 1985) have proposed that people use drugs to enhance mood and alleviate emotional distress. Therefore is we were to go on what the study you used found, making animals present in drug rehabilitation areas would alleviate the stress felt and therefore take away the individuals reason for doing drugs.

  5. I don’t know if I agree or not that having a pet decrease stress,because i think that most people see their pets as parts of their family. So for me,having a pet is almost the same with having a brother or sister. I have a dog that i absolutely love and I actually feel like he is part of my family,so I can’t really say that this has to do with the stress or not,because corresponding having a brother or sister don’t reduse your stress. Specially only childs have that feeling even more strong, because it is more easier for them not to distinguish their pets from their family. That happens because the pets give them the companionship that a brother or sister would give them. In fact there is a a study (West J Nurs Res 2002) that claims that most people feel that their pets are parts of their family and that if they have a scarce drug,they would prefer to give it to their pet,rather than a human.

    doi: 10.1177/019394502320555386 West J Nurs Res October 2002 vol. 24 no. 6 621-638

  6. There are many examples of pets reducing stress in the real world. Many workplaces such as care homes, schools and just even the homes of elderly people have pets. Even security on Ffrith site has a security cat 🙂

  7. I would say that unless you are the type of person that cannot look after a pet properly or who doesn’t have a care for animals, then I think a pet can definitely decrease stress levels as well as having other benefits.

    A study carried out at the University of Buffalo (1999) demonstrated that New York stockbrokers who had cats or dogs were found to have lower blood pressure and heart rates than those who didn’t have pets.

    Having a pet can also lead to more exercise. Obviously just by owning a dog it has to be walked on a daily basis, therefore getting the owner and the dog exercise. The exercise leads to reduced levels of stress.

    Having a pet can also reduce loneliness. There are a number of experiments carried which suggest that having pets in retirement homes make them feel much less lonely.

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