Stress Reduction From Our Four Legged Friends

Horses reduce stress

I want a pet. Soft and cuddly, scaly and cool, or wet and wiggly. I don’t care. I want a pet. I want a non-human, easy to love creature that I can take care of. I’m not too picky, I just want a critter, that I believe, will help reduce stress and anxiety. Studies going back to the 1980s have shown animals can reduce stress, lower blood pressure and reduce depression. Generally, when we think of having an animal to help improve our health and reduce our stress, we think of dogs, but, studies have been done on animals in all shapes and sizes.

Horses Help Reduce Stress In Youth

Last month, Rachel Webber wrote an article in WSU News about a way to reduce stress hormones in youth. Three years ago, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) began asking researchers to tackle big questions about the effects of human-animal interaction on child development. With the support of a $100,000 NIH grant, Patricia Pendry, a developmental psychologist at Washington State University, led a research project to engage students in grades 5-8 in a 12-week equine facilitated learning program.

Pendry says

We were coming at this from a prevention perspective. We are especially interested in optimizing healthy stress hormone production in young adolescents, because we know from other research that healthy stress hormone patterns may protect against the development of physical and mental health problems. “The beauty of studying stress hormones is that they can be sampled quite noninvasively and conveniently by sampling saliva in naturalistic settings as individuals go about their regular day.

The after-school program serving 130 typically developing children over a two-year period that bused students from school to the barn for 12 weeks. Children were randomly assigned to participate in the program or be waitlisted.

Participants provided six samples of saliva over a two-day period both before and after the 12-week program. Pendry compared the levels and patterns of stress hormone functioning by measuring cortisol. The results were exciting, she said. “We found that children who had participated in the 12-week program had significantly lower stress hormone levels throughout the day and in the afternoon, compared to children in the waitlisted group,” she said. “We get excited about that because we know that higher base levels of cortisol – particularly in the afternoon – are considered a potential risk factor for the development of psychopathology.”

While the research focused on prevention, Pendry said she believes it could provide a starting point to look at the impact on children of high levels of stress and physical or mental health issues.

I love horses, but I can’t afford the stable fees and our apartment is just too small for a horse. I’ll have to cross that one off my list

Our Traditional Furry Friends

Apparently Washington State University is ahead of the curve when it comes to human and animal interaction. The May 7, 2014 issue of The Spokesman Review in Spokane Washington reported a successful service offering therapy pets to WSU Spokane students during exams.

Reporter Jody Lawrence-Turner explains that the Spokane Humane Society brought five friendly dogs, a cuddly cat and a crate of 3-week-old kittens to the university to give students a mental break during the intense end-of-year week.

dogCatThe Spokane Humane Society started offering the stress-reducing service to schools last year. Jenna Carroll, the volunteer/foster coordinator, expects to also take the dogs and cats to Gonzaga and Whitworth universities. “We’ll go anywhere people ask us to as long as we can make it work,” Carroll said. The dogs and cats all belong to Spokane Humane Society staff members. “It’s been great.”

According to the reporter, nursing student MacKenzie Iverson’s voice rose an octave as she greeted and cuddled a therapy dog Tuesday on Washington State University Spokane’s campus. “This is the best stress reliever ever,” Iverson said during a break in her final exams.

As for me, I don’t like dogs…well, that’s not true. I like petting dogs, romping with them, throwing sticks, etc., but I don’t want to get up early to walk one, or make sure they’re fed. They are also way to codependent for me. I don’t want a dog pawing at and drooling on my leg in an attempt to get my attention. I do like other peoples dogs, though – all the fun and none of the fuss. Scratching the dog off my list.

Cats I do like. I like their independence and people who don’t think cats are loving have obviously never had one. Some may not like strangers but most are sweet and cuddly to their owners. The best thing I like about cats is they are less of a burden. Want a long weekend away? Just fill the litter box, set out some food and water and off you go. No friends to drop in and no kennels required.

One big problem for us, however, is that Maurice is allergic to cats. Scratch cats off the list.

They May Not Breath Fire But They Do Smell Bad

Since traditional pets won’t work I decided I wanted a lizard. A bearded dragon, to be precise. They just hangbearded dragon out all day and be cool. They are social and may be comfortable sitting on your lap during the day. It’s also fun to toss crickets into the lizard’s cage and watch them be quickly and easily hunted down one by one.

Maurice kept trying to talk me out of the bearded dragon, but I was insistent that one day I’d have one. That was until I found out some friends have one. I never knew how dirty and foul smelling the dragon’s cage can become. In addition, buying crickets is very expensive over time and the only other option is to raise them yourself. My friends do that. The pesky things are raised in their garage. We don’t have a garage and, unfortunately, the cricket environment is foul smelling as well.

Bearded dragons are off the list.

Just Keep Swimming…

Aquarium Therapy is another option that is available according to a flier distributed by the National Park Service (NPS). How the NPS got involved, I don’t know. In the flier they say heart rates, skin temperatures and blood pressures drop while watching fish.

I can stare at and become entranced by fish in an aquarium for hours. Doing so has placed me in a meditative state with a greater reduction in my stress and anxiety levels. There is the cost of purchasing all that is needed, including the fish, however, after the initial prices, additional expense should be minimal.
So, it looks like my pets are likely to be fish. Maurice points out that I can’t even keep our houseplants alive. Valid argument, but one I will ignore. One day when I will make some space in our apartment, and get a little more expendable income, I will have my fish….or something else that may come to mind.

Any suggestions? Any opportunities I missed? Let me know. If you have a pet, let me know if you think it helps reduce your stress levels.

6 comments on Stress Reduction From Our Four Legged Friends

  1. Our daughter was given a very small live turtle as a party favor at a child’s birthday party. While giving live animals as party favors is a horrible idea, after spending $100 for a tank and accessories for our “free” turtle I have to say we really love having it. It’s nice to see him lounging under his heat lamp. He even lets us feed him by hand. And he has none of the pesky behaviors of our furry pets.

    By the way, a couple of gold fish in a bowl are cheap and easy to take care of. And they are pretty darn hardy.

    1. A turtle is not anything that I thought of. I’ll ponder over that one. I’m seriously considering the goldfish idea.

  2. i have almost always had a pet my whole life. but after i became disabled, i discovered that the ADA laws allow for a mentally disabled person to have an ESA (Emotional Support Animal) in an attempt to help alleviate mental health symptoms, provide social contact, and comfort. If you are mentally ill and disabled, you only need a letter from one of your mental health providers (psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist etc) on their letterhead that states you have a mental illness and would benefit from the presence of an animal in your home. ESA’s are exempt from pet deposits, pet rent, and can use any public transportation that you use to get to a destination where you will be staying at least one night. Also, they can stay with you in any hotel or motel, etc. And when you fly, they stay with you, right at your feet, in the cabin not in cargo.

    I have availed myself of this for several years. It makes it affordable to have a pet that I don’t need to pay deposit or rent for. It makes it easier to travel if I can take my animal with me and it can stay with me at my destination. They do not have quite as many freedoms as a Service Animal, but it is still very helpful, I think to have an animal. My last ESA was a lovely german shepherd mix. She was very shy, and docile. She was loving, and gentle and we both helped each other overcome fears, and grow. Now, I have a cat, who is the most unique cat I have ever known. She makes me stop and sit down and just give her love, and that helps me feel better, calmer, less anxious.

    In any case, any animal that you get will help you feel more connected, needed, loved. And if you can do it for free, as an ESA, that is even better and makes it easier. And, regarding what pet YOU should get, if cats, dogs, and horses are out, have you ever considered a guinea pig or dwarf hamsters? They are adorable to watch, love getting attention, can become accustomed to being held and often will sit with you and explore around you. They know who their people are and get excited when they see them. If you choose carefully, you can find one with a temperment that is most compatible with you. They are also easy to care for. We have had many guinea pigs and dwarf hamsters (I don’t personally care for normal sized hamsters) and they all have had very distinct personalities.

    Well, good luck finding an animal that suits both of you. Fish are nice to watch, but in my opinion, they are quite difficult to care for–what with washing the rocks and ornaments, scraping and cleaning the tank and all of the filtration equipment, putting the tank back together and then replacing the fish back into the tank, which must be done slowly to acclimatize them to the new water. And for some reason, no matter how careful I was, my fish always got either tailrot or ick. A betta fish with tailrot is a very sad thing. I agree, they are lovely to watch though.

    1. Hi kat,
      I had a fish that had tail rot and it was sad. Interesting info on the ESA. That actually was what I was originally going to write about, but got distracted as I did research. I never considered a guinea pig or a hamster. Sounds like something to look into. Thank you for letting me know.

  3. I, as you know, have a dog and she is definitely the best stress-reliever in my life. But, as you said, dogs are not for you. It is true they come with a lot of responsibility, but if you have the right set-up, it’s super-easy. As for other animals, I’m allergic to (and annoyed by) cats, reptiles are gross, and fish are expensive (and also heartbreaking, because, they don’t usually live very long). I don’t have any better suggestions for you other than maybe a hedgehog…we had two growing up and they were really neat. I don’t remember if there was an odor issue.

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