The Power of Pets: Therapeutic benefits of animal interaction

Discover the therapeutic benefits of animal interaction.

Perhaps we always knew it, but the proof is in! Studies suggest that pets are good for your heart – in every sense  of the word. Interacting with animals has been shown to lower cortisol (a stress-related hormone) levels and blood pressure, reduce loneliness and boost your mood.

“Animals support our physical, mental and emotional well-being, ” explained our favourite clinical geropsychologist and neuropsychologist (and cat owner) Dr Nancy A. Pachana, during a recent UQHL presentation on  the health benefits of human-animal interactions.

Joining Pachana were furry guests Nala and Mufasa, courtesy of Happy Paws Happy Hearts and the RSPCA. At just eight weeks old, the puppies provided instant proof of their influence and charmed all in attendance.

Physical benefits

Pets are attributed to an increase in exercise (e.g. dog walking) and rehabilitation (e.g. in stroke victims through brushing their pet’s coat) for their owners, Pachana explained.

According to the research, petting or talking to dogs leads to improved cardiovascular health,  and both cat and dog owners may experience fewer minor health concerns.

Mental and emotional benefits

The benefits to our mental and emotional well-being are also generous. “Having a pet reduces social isolation for older adults across settings and across varying levels of health and cognitive decline,” Pachana said.

Animals improve psychological well-being and social interaction for those who live alone; and improve social functioning and impulse control for members of animal therapy groups. The studies found  pets buffer the impact of stress, increase self-esteem and reduce anxiety.

Benefits for older persons

Pachana explained the particular importance of animals for older persons, stating that  over 60% of community-dwelling older adults cited pets as a key source of emotional support. 20% of these
ranked their pets as the most important support source .

“Dog therapy also reduced aged care resident’s loneliness and depression and improved cognitive impairment in those with dementia. The presence of animals provided… increased socialisation in nursing home residents.”

(N=120) Ueda (2005, unpublished honours thesis)