The evidence base for these benefits is huge. The best known is by Katcher and colleagues and this itself references loads of research – The Health Benefits of Companion Animals. Among the many advantages of contact with animals are:
- Greater reduction of cardiovascular stress response in the presence of a dog in comparison to friends or spouses
- Decreased pulse rate, increased skin temperature, and decreased muscle tension in elderly people watching an aquarium
- Enhanced hormone levels of dopamine and endorphins associated with happiness and well-being and decreased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, following a quiet 30-minute session of interacting with a dog
- Reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol in healthcare professionals after as little as 5 minutes interacting with a therapy dog. (Very interesting that they measured benefits to staff!)
- A study evaluated animal assisted therapy at an adult day care centre for older adults with dementia. The results indicated that involving the people in activities with dogs decreased their feelings of anxiety and sadness and increased physical activity and positive emotions. Other research has shown nutritional benefits for people with dementia.
- Pets can even help ease pain! A study found that adults who used pet therapy required 50 percent less pain medication than those who did not