This post was published in April 2019, for National Stress Awareness Month, and National Stress Awareness Day which was on April 16th.
Stress: ‘A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances’ – Oxford Dictionaries.
Stress is a necessary biological reaction, helping us to react to situations such as threats or challenges. However, high levels of stress can damage our health both mentally and physically.
We all have different ways of managing stress, and research has shown that spending time with animals can be an effective way of reducing stress and anxiety. So in this post we’re going to highlight a few research studies which have looked into how therapy animals reduce stress. We’ll also share one Pets As Therapy volunteer’s experience with their own PAT dog.
The research: how therapy animals reduce stress
Study 1: therapy dogs reduce stress instantly
‘Petting away pre-exam stress: The effect of therapy dog sessions on student well-being’ – Emma Ward-Griffin, Patrick Klaiber, Hanne Collins, Rhea Owens, Stanley Coren, Frances Chen.
A 2018 study analysed the impact of a therapy dog session on 246 university students at the University of British Columbia. The students completed a questionnaire immediately before and after the session. The researchers found that the sessions had immediate strong benefits: reducing stress, increasing happiness, and increasing energy levels.
Study 2: dogs and cats are better at reducing high blood pressure than drugs
‘Pet ownership, but not ACE inhibitor therapy, blunts home blood pressure responses to mental stress’ – Karen Allen, Barbara Shykoff, Joseph Izzo Jr.
A 1999 study conducted at the University of Buffalo found that spending time with a pet cat or dog was more effective at reducing high blood pressure in high-stress situations than ACE inhibitors. ACE inhibitors are a type of drug used to keep high blood pressure under control.
PAT volunteer Carole Adams shares her experience
Carole Adam is a long-serving Pets As Therapy volunteer, Voluntary Area Co-ordinator and Temperament Assessor for Pets As Therapy. Retired health care professional Carole is passionate about benefits provided by a visit from a ‘PAT team’ (a friendly volunteer and their temperament-assessed pet) and how therapy animals reduce stress. She relates some of her experiences below of how a visit from a PAT pet can reduce stress.
One company’s TV advert states that their product “refreshes the parts others cannot reach”. This quote reminds me of what PAT Teams do every day all across the UK!
Our therapeutic visits, giving people in all kinds of establishments the opportunity to share time with us and our much-loved pets have been shown to succeed in making people feel calmer, happier, more confident and less stressed where other conventional therapies have not worked for them.
Our Pets As Therapy visits make people feel calmer, happier, more confident and less stressed.
I’m sure that every Pets As Therapy volunteer has wonderful stories to tell of those special moments during PAT visits that have really made a difference to someone.
Well, here are just a few of mine …
Working with a local child bereavement charity
I have witnessed the smiles returning to the faces of bereaved children as they spent time stroking, cuddling and talking to the PAT dogs, which are, as we all know, non-judgemental.
Working within prison
A young man told me that the PAT visits had given him the courage to overcome a phobia of dogs that he had acquired during a difficult childhood.
Working in a secure mental health setting
A parent told me that her daughter’s life had been saved by the PAT dog that came to visit her whilst in hospital. Her daughter was so depressed she did not respond to the conventional treatments offered by health care professionals, but when a ‘magic mutt’ came to visit she reacted in a very positive way – a breakthrough moment that opened up to other positive interventions.
The experiences I have described above are my reward and the inspiration that keep me firmly committed to volunteering with Pets As Therapy.
We would love to hear your stories about Pets As Therapy, whether you’re a volunteer, an establishment that works with us, or someone who has been visited by a PAT pet. To submit your story please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are also always looking for new recruits to carry on the incredible work that volunteers like Carole do. If you are interested in volunteering for Pets As Therapy, please fill out our application form, and we’ll be in touch.