The stress that finals bring to students this month encouraged almost 1,000 students from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond to attend “Paws for Stress”. It’s a program where students will have the chance to play and pet therapy dogs. According to Sandra Barker, event organizer and a researcher at the Center for Human-Animal Interaction at VCU’s medical school, VCU is just one of many colleges making therapy dogs available to students to help them cope with the stresses of finals.
Back then people thought of pets for recreational purpose only. But nowadays animals are not only good for companionship, they are also believed to aid in boosting our health. Most pet owners will tell you that their pet keeps them company and help make life better for them. But can their beloved animal better their health? Researchers are investigating the answer to this question. Barker said, at the moment, some of the best evidence for the benefits of pet interactions comes in the mental health arena.
A few studies have been conducted about the benefits of animal therapy. The American Heart Association released its conclusion statement in May 2013 that pet ownership is “probably associated with decreased cardiovascular disease risk”. Also, a review of 69 studies was done recently and found evidence that human-animal interactions could reduce stress, anxiety, lift up moods, as it may activate oxytocin.
It’s not clear how long or strong the effect of pet therapy lasts. But for the VCU students who attended the Paws for Stress event temporary drops of stress levels were reported. One student came with a stress headache from studying, and after five minutes of playing and petting with a dog the student told Barker his/her headache is gone. As for PTSD, dog therapy needs a lot more of studies to be done in order to clarify how canine companionship can help people suffering from the disease.
But not all studies have positive results. In fact, a study in 2006 was conducted on depressed long term-care patients, who were visited by therapy dogs weekly. Unfortunately, the study found no significant decrease in depression.
A sure way that your pet can boost your health is if it inspires you to be active. Taking your furry friend for a walk will sure increase your physical activity, which can lead to an improve health. So if you are planning to adopt a dog make sure that your main reason is to give him a home; anything else is a bonus.
Image via Rhys.A at Flickr.com