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Pets lower stress

HEALTH

It’s long been thought pets are beneficial to our emotional wellbeing. Well, now it’s confirmed. A US study has demonstrated that just 10 minutes’ interaction with dogs and cats can reduce cortisol — a major stress hormone. In the study — the first to measure cortisol levels during a real-life situation, rather than in a laboratory setting — four groups of participants were selected randomly from 249 college students. Researchers then compared the effects different exposures to the animals had on the students.


The first group was allowed 10 minutes of hands-on interaction with dogs and cats; the second group waited while observing others petting the animals; the third group watched a slideshow of the same animals; while the fourth group didn’t participate at all. Sampling cortisol levels from saliva collected from each participant, researchers found dramatically less cortisol in the saliva of the students who had direct contact with the pets than those who didn’t. These findings occurred regardless of whether the participants initial cortisol levels were very high or very low at the start of the study.

We already knew that students enjoy interacting with animals and that it helps them experience more positive emotions, says associate professor Patricia Pendry, of Washington State University’s Department of Human Development. 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.

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