Why is petting a dog therapeutic?

Tough week at work? Lying awake worrying at night? Stressed about upcoming exams? Then get a dog!

There's nothing like a canine chum to put a bounce back into your step. Petting a pooch is proven to cut your stress levels and help you relax, among a host of other benefits.

Read on to find out more about why dogs are humans' best friends, and how to protect your pup pal through dog insurance.

 

Why does petting a dog relieve stress?

If you're a dog owner, you’ll already know how soothing it is to stroke your pet.

Now university scientists have backed you up with research into the physiological effects of petting a dog.

Their study involved 249 students, who were all given 10 minutes petting and playing with dogs.

The study measured the amount of cortisol - the so-called 'stress hormone' - in study participants' saliva.

It found that cortisol levels dropped dramatically after the students had interacted with the animals - even among those who had very high or low levels to begin with.

Professor Patricia Pendry, who led the research, said: "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 would help students reduce their stress in a less subjective way, which it did.

"This is exciting because the reduction of stress hormones may, over time, have significant benefits for physical and mental health."

 

What hormone is released when petting a dog?

Cortisol is not the only hormone affected by playing with your pet.

Another university study found that petting a dog for just 15 minutes boosts the so-called "feel-good" hormones, serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin, and even lowers blood pressure by 10%.

Given that anti-depressants often work by raising serotonin levels in the brain, it's easy to see why stroking a dog can be a real mood-booster.

A further study found that petting any living creature, even a turtle, reduced anxiety in participants to a significant extent.

No wonder, then, that pet therapy is on the rise, with specially trained labradors, golden retrievers and spaniels among the hounds being taken into hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, schools and universities to boost people's moods and reduce their stress levels.

A family kneeling around a dog petting it while out on a walk

What are the other health and wellbeing benefits of dog ownership?

Of course, there's more to dog ownership than just petting.

Whether you purchase a pedigree, or rescue a mongrel from a shelter, the new addition to your family will soon be enhancing your health and wellbeing in numerous ways.

Those daily or twice daily walks can do wonders for your physical and mental condition. Exercise helps you lose weight, lower your blood pressure, and generally stay fitter for longer in life.

Just make sure your beloved pet is covered by dog insurance in case it gets injured or picks up an illness while you’re out and about.

Pets also provide companionship, which is especially beneficial for lonely older people. Children benefit, too, often finding it easier to tell their problems to a sympathetic furry ear than to a parent or friend.

Dog walking is also a great way to meet new people. If you usually find it hard to start a conversation, you'll discover that comparing canines is a great ice-breaker with the fellow owners you'll meet on your daily strolls.

All in all, pets have been linked to lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels, which are indicators of heart disease; helping heart attack patients survive for longer; changing the behaviour of prisoners for the better; and reducing the number of visits to the doctor in people aged over 65.

Why all those benefits? It seems the answer is quite simple: as humans, we have a basic need for touch. Stroking, hugging or touching an animal fulfils that need, and keeps us happy and healthy.

 

How do I pet a dog safely?

Even the mildest-mannered mongrel or soundest of hounds will growl or even bite if it feels under threat.

For children who are desperate to play with a big-eyed, bouncy puppy, this can be a frightening experience. In the worst case, a stressed or cornered canine can cause injury, which could be severe.

Responsible owners know to keep their pets away from excited small people, and to get dog insurance with third party liability just in case their hound gets carried away and causes injury or damage.

With proper care, though, you and your kids can enjoy the calming effects of petting a playful pooch in safety.

Blue Cross has produced a guide to help you 'think dog' and read canine body language, so you can tell if a pup wants to be left alone or if it would love nothing more than a good stroke! The charity gives the following advice:

  • You should always move slowly and act calmly and quietly around pets.

 

  • Ask the owner if it's ok to stroke the dog, then let it sniff your hand. If it seems comfortable with you, stroke it on the shoulder or chest.

 

  • Don't approach a dog when it's eating, sleeping, is under a chair or table, is sick, or is trying to move away.

 

  • Take extra care of a mother with her puppies, and don't try to take a dog's toy away – even if you just want to play a game with it.

 

Remember, if a dog jumps up at you, it's best to stay still, or even turn away and fold your arms. It's likely to get bored of you pretty quickly!

A woman hugging a puppy with a smile on her face

Get a quote for dog insurance today

Furry friends are a huge boost to your health and wellbeing, so it's essential that you look after theirs.

Vet bills for illness or injury can quickly run into the thousands – beyond the reach of many pet owners.

By choosing a suitable dog insurance policy from pet insurance specialists Purely Pets, you can cover your canine companion for illness and injury.

That means you can relax and enjoy the therapeutic benefits of petting your pooch!

Get a quote today!

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