The idea that pets can play a therapeutic role is not new: the charity Pets as Therapy was founded over 30 years ago and 4,500 dogs and 108 cats now visit over 130,000 people every week. That’s a staggering half million bedside pet visits each year, giving both young and old the pleasure and chance to cuddle and talk to them. More information here. What is more recent, however, is researchers’ attempts to understand why this can have such a positive impact on people’s health and well-being.
“Pets hold a special place in many people’s hearts and lives, and there is compelling evidence from clinical and laboratory studies that interacting with pets can be beneficial to the physical, social and emotional well-being of humans,” says Lori Palley, DVM, of the MGH Center for Comparative Medicine. “Several previous studies have found that levels of neurohormones like oxytocin – which is involved in pair-bonding and maternal attachment – rise after interaction with pets, and new brain imaging technologies are helping us begin to understand the neurobiological basis of the relationship, which is exciting.” More details of Lori’s research and report can be accessed here.
The Alzheimer’s Society touched on this in their Living with Dementia magazine back in 2011, quoting Jane Fossey, a clinical psychologist and a trustee of the Society for Companion Animal Studies (SCAS), which promotes the health and social benefits of human-animal interactions. “A number of small-scale studies suggest that introducing animals into care homes can have positive effects for people with dementia. For example, spending time with visiting animals has been shown to reduce blood pressure and anxiety, and improve social interaction and sleeping patterns. It can also reduce the late-afternoon restlessness that can affect people with dementia.”
No wonder then, that no less than 8,461 care homes in the UK declare themselves to be pet friendly with some organisations placing animals center stage in their daily life. In Eden Alternative nursing homes, for example, dogs, cats and birds live among and interact with the residents, “lessening their sense of loneliness and boredom”.