It is commonly known that animals have a soothing effect on people, but recent scientific studies have focused on identifying a link between animal interaction and improved human health.
Interaction with Animals Linked to Improved Wellbeing
A New York University study undertaken by Allen and colleagues in 1999 showed that interacting with a familiar animal companion had a positive impact on short-term health. Further research by Allen in 2002 also suggested that frequent contact with animals can be beneficial to long-term health, which may even help to prevent further illnesses. So how much impact does animal interaction have on our physical and mental wellbeing?
Impact of Animals on Physical Health
Recent studies have shown that interacting with an animal can lower blood pressure and regulate the heart rate during times of stress. Animal owners could therefore be improving their long-term heart health when compared to those who do not keep a pet. Research was carried out by Raina and colleagues at the University of Guelf in Canada. It showed that the presence of a cat or dog can improve the ability of elderly people to perform tasks they would normally find difficult, such as climbing stairs and even taking medication. The positive impact of animals on emotional health is also well-documented.
Effects of Animals on Mental Wellbeing
The levels of anxiety in children were lowered when in the presence of an animal according to one study. Animals have been shown to markedly improve symptoms of anxiety in the elderly and it has also been proven that they can improve symptoms of PTSD in veterans. The companionship of an animal can also help those without mental health issues and can reduce the chances of illness occurring. There are different animal therapies available to those in need of help.
Types of Animal Therapy
Equine therapy, or frequent interaction with horses, has been shown to enhance the physical and mental health of cancer sufferers. Patients who interacted with horses for at least two hours per week showed improvement in physical strength after treatment, as well as reduced anxiety. Horses may be difficult to gain access to, particularly in those who are too weak to leave home. However, there are other animal therapies available. Many programmes are in place to provide a dog companion to those with disabilities, long-term illnesses, or mental health difficulties. These dogs can be trained to provide physical assistance or they can be offered purely for emotional support.
Pet Therapy is a complimentary therapy available for financial assistance under our Community Care Program. To learn more about our free program, click here.
Article written and provided by Jenny Holt, Freelance Health & Nature Writer