10 minute hands-on interactions with cats and dogs lowers stress in undergraduates

A study published on June 12, 2019 shows that when undergraduates participated in 10 minutes of hands-on interaction with cats and dogs from a local shelter their stress levels were reduced as measured by saliva cortisol levels after the test.

Graduate with her cat
Graduate with her cat. Photo on imgur.com. Entitled: Finished my undergraduate degree!! No amount of honors I receive will ever impress my cat however…
by PhtevenTheWhovian
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University students report high levels of stress and the problem is apparently getting worse. In this study undergraduates were put through four different activities, namely hands-on visitation programs (AVP) which meant petting cats and dogs, observing pet animals, viewing images of the animals on a slideshow and an ‘AVP waitlist’.

After participating in these activities cortisol levels were analyzed from their saliva which was compared to cortisol collected before the activity. Students who participated in what they describe as the “hands-on condition” (actual contact with cats and dogs) had the lowest levels of cortisol compared to the students who participated in the other activities.

Cortisol is a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands. It’s important to help the body deal with stressful situations. The brain triggers its release in response to many different kinds of stress situations. It can be detected in a person’s saliva.

Thie study is published on the Sage Journals website and carried out by researchers at Washington State University. The lead researcher was Patricia Pendry. She is an associate Prof at Washington State University’s Department of Human Development.

Commenting on the research she said:

“Just 10 minutes can have a significant impact. Students in our study that interacted with cats and dogs had a significant reduction in cortisol, a major stress hormone.”

The study involved 249 college students who were randomly divided into four groups.

“We already knew that students enjoy interacting with animals, and that it helps them experience more positive emotions. What we wanted to learn was whether this exposure will 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.” – Patricia Pendry

Clearly the study also confirms the general benefit to cat and dog owners who, without consciously feeling it, benefit from the presence of their companion animals on a daily basis.

Note: there has to always be respect for the participating animal, cat or dog. Particularly for cats they need to be of the right character not to be stressed themselves by being a therapy animal.

Dr Turner is not a fan of therapy cats at universities as the cat has not consented to it. It is a breach of their rights. I am not sure about that. Provided the cat has a suitable character – confident and able to interact with strangers without becoming stressed – I don’t see an issue. Certainly, it is important that a therapy cat has a suitable character.

The role of therapy cat is a step beyond their usual role of providing companionship and ‘therapy’ to their owner in their home. But it is part of the same process. It is a question of being habituated to being a therapy cat and if the cat is, it is a good life full of mental stimulation.

The idea of ‘consent’ is a bit extreme as I am not sure that any domestic cat consents to anything. That takes rational thought. Can cats think entirely rationally?

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