According to a Harris poll conducted in 2015, 95% of pet owners think of their pet as a family member. And, about half of them buy their pets Christmas and birthday presents. Sounds like a pretty sweet gig, huh? But, the truth is, our pets do a lot more for us than just lay around on the couch all day looking cute! Pet owners often have lower blood pressure, lower risk of heart disease, and a lower heart rate than those who don’t own pets. These benefits are most likely due to the stress relief pets can bring into our lives, and maybe the extra exercise that comes with walking and playtime.
But, did you know that scientists are now finding evidence that pets can also be useful for your mental health, even for folks with more severe disorders? The results of these studies are so impressive, many health care facilities are even opening up their doors for “animal-assisted interventions” … or pet therapy.
Here are some amazing studies you may not have heard about:
- Rabbits: In one study, a group of adults suffering from stress and anxiety were told to pet a stuffed toy rabbit. Sadly, the toys had no effect on their stress levels. However, when the same group was given a live rabbit to pet, their anxiety and stress levels were significantly reduced. Furthermore, the therapy worked just as well on people who initially said they didn’t like animals.
- Horses: Horses are one of the most widely studied therapy animals, and they have been incorporated into medical treatment plans throughout Europe since the 1860s. Participating in activities like riding, grooming, or leading a horse have been shown to have significant benefits for those suffering from PTSD.
- Fish: Animals, such as fish, have been shown to help people focus their attention. At an Alzheimer’s treatment facility, aquariums stocked with brightly colored fish were placed in the dining room. The patients who ate in front of the fish received better nutrition because they were more focused, they ate more, and they were less likely to pace or wander off.
- Dogs: Another study suggests that children who are struggling with learning how to read can benefit from reading aloud to a trained dog and handler. The children had less anxiety, their attitudes changes, and their reading skills improved significantly.
- Guinea Pigs: A study done by Maggie O’Haire at Purdue showed that animals can make socializing for children who find it difficult. During the study, autistic children who had a pet guinea pig in their classroom were more comfortable interacting with the other children, they laughed and smiled more, and even showed a reduction in their stress levels.
While pet therapy isn’t a cure-all for whatever ails you, it is being more commonly used alongside conventional medicine, especially in children’s hospitals and elderly care facilities. More research is needed to discover exactly how and why it works, and how much pet interaction is necessary to produce results. But the good news is, with several published studies showing that pet therapy has a place in mental well-being, there is a strong case for its benefits.