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Study demonstrates stress reduction benefits from petting dogs, cats

Study demonstrates stress reduction benefits from petting dogs, cats

College is stressful. Students have classes, papers, and exams. But they also often have work, bills to pay, and so many other pressures common in modern life.

Many universities have instituted “Pet your stress away” programs, where students can come in and interact with cats and/or dogs to help alleviate some of the strain.

Scientists at Washington State University have recently demonstrated that, in addition to improving students’ moods, these programs can actually get “under the skin” and have stress-relieving physiological benefits.

“Just 10 minutes can have a significant impact,” said Patricia Pendry, an associate professor in WSU’s Department of Human Development. “Students in our study that interacted with cats and dogs had a significant reduction in cortisol, a major stress hormone.”

Pendry published these findings with WSU graduate student Jaymie Vandagriff last month in AERA Open, an open access journal published by the American Educational Research Association.

This is the first study that has demonstrated reductions in students’ cortisol levels during a real-life intervention rather than in a laboratory setting.

The study involved 249 college students randomly divided into four groups. The first group received hands-on interaction in small groups with cats and dogs for 10 minutes. They could pet, play with, and generally hang out with the animals as they wanted.

To compare effects of different exposures to animals, the second group observed other people petting animals while they waited in line for their turn. The third group watched a slideshow of the same animals available during the intervention, while the fourth group was “waitlisted”. Those students waited for their turn quietly for 10 minutes without their phones, reading materials, or other stimuli, but were told they would experience animal interaction soon.

Several salivary cortisol samples were collected from each participant, starting in the morning when they woke up. Once all the data was crunched from the various samples, the students who interacted directly with the pets showed significantly less cortisol in their saliva after the interaction. These results were found even while considering that some students may have had very high or low levels to begin with.

“We already knew that students enjoy interacting with animals, and that it helps them experience more positive emotions,” Pendry said. “What we wanted to learn was whether this exposure would help students reduce their stress in a less subjective way. And it did, which is exciting because the reduction of stress hormones may, over time, have significant benefits for physical and mental health.”

Now Pendry and her team are continuing this work by examining the impact of a four-week-long animal-assisted stress prevention program. Preliminary results are very positive, with a follow-up study showing that the findings of the recently published work hold up. They hope to publish the final results of that work in the near future.

Journal: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2332858419852592

Materials provided by Washington State University

pet kitten companion

Study finds most of the pet owners are not aware of pet blood donation schemes

A new survey of pet owners which has been published in Vet Record finds that the majority of dog and cat owners are not aware of several blood donation schemes and blood banks for pets.

A large number of pet owners in this survey said that they were ready to allow their pets for donating blood. Researchers say that this suggests an increase in awareness can help in an increase of donors similar to human blood donation.

The need for animal blood has been increasing in veterinary practice. The percentage of pets donating blood is not clearly known but is supposed to be quite small. However, the demand for blood is more than the supply which is available.

Researchers from the Royal Veterinary College investigated awareness of pet owners for small animal blood donation. They also surveyed about their attitude and motivation of their pet being a blood donor. 158 dog and cat owners, over the age of 18 were surveyed for a period of 10 days. They were asked to fill an anonymous questionnaire regarding awareness of pet blood donation, motivations and concerns about their pet being a blood donor and whether they would be happy if their pet was fit to donate blood.

110 out of 158 were not aware that pets could donate blood, 118 were not aware that pet blood banks were there. 140 owners stated that they would allow their pets to donate blood if found suitable, 18 stated they would not. There was no major difference between the percentage of male and female owners who were willing that their pets donated blood. However, owners aged 71 or more and those who worked full time were less likely for letting their pets donate blood.

The most common motivation for pet blood donation was beneficence, the desire to help others. The next was the necessity of service, which refers to a recognition that blood products are needed and reciprocity, hoping helping others would make blood products available for their own pets.

Researchers have pointed out that this is a survey involving a very small sample size, only one clinic. As a result of this, the numbers may not match for a larger population. Although this is a good starting point in understanding the awareness of the general people about pet blood donation. Researchers conclude that recruitment of donors can be increased by increasing awareness among the pet owners. However, using animals for blood donation involves greater complexity and not all pets are suitable to participate in the process. Potential donors should be checked thoroughly by a vet before donating blood.