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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.

carolina dog

Researchers find out the genetic influence behind dog ownership

A team of researchers of Swedish and British scientists conducted a study on heritability of owning a dog with the help of 35,035 twin pairs from the Swedish Twin Registry. This recent study says that the adaptability of the type of dogs depends heavily on the owner’s genes. Dogs were the first animals whom humans made their pet. The relationships of dogs with humans have been intact from the past 15,000 years. The researchers compared the genes with that of twins to that of the dog owners and the result was published for the first time in the Scientific Reports journal.

The main motive of this project was to see if the dog ownership had more impact of heredity or not. The results were surprising and the scientists noticed that the genes of a person had a greater impact on whether they owned a dog. This is the main reason why dogs and humans have shared a good relationship for so many years. Though pets are common in the households and dogs are more common but the impact in the owner’s health and life due to their presence is unknown or known very little.

Tove Fall, the lead author of this study and a Professor in Molecular Epidemiology at  Uppsala University said that some of the people take very good care of their pets than many other people. Carri Westgarth, a lecturer in the field of human-animal interaction at the University of Liverpool and the co-author of the study added that this study is important as it can explain the supposed health benefits of owning a dog.

The study of twins is a well-known method for dissecting the influences of environment and genes on biology and behaviour. It is said that identical twins share an entire genome whereas non-identical twins on average share only half of the genetic variation and comparisons of the within-pair concordance of dog ownership within groups will reveal whether genetics play a role in owning a dog or not.

The scientists found the concordance rates of dog owners to be much larger in identical twins than that of the nonidentical ones and genes does play in the choice whether to own a dog or not. Which genes play an important role is not yet known and it is said that decades of archaeological research has helped in constructing a better relationship with the dogs.

The next step for the scientists is to find out the exact genetic variant responsible for an individual’s choices. This is a huge step in understanding the long history of the domestication of dog and the genetic reasons behind it.