Any dog lover knows the unique ability our pets have to cheer us up when we’re not feeling well. As a pet therapy team, Nemo and I have seen firsthand the power of pets to cheer people up at the hospital, often a very depressing place.
And it seems that health care professionals are catching on. The Wall Street Journal reports that a growing number of psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and other therapists are bringing their dogs to work to calm patients.
Research shows that a few minutes spent petting a dog decreases levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in both the human and the dog. It also increases prolactin and oxytocin, the hormones that control nurturing and security, as well as serotonin and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters that boost mood. One study found that five minutes with a dog was as relaxing as a 20-minute break for hospital workers.
Even medical schools have acknowledged the importance of pet therapy. Many schools, like Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Medicine, offer a human-animal interaction class for medical and psychiatry students. As more studies are done on this topic, I hope that more health care professionals will be encouraged to listen to the research and bring their pets to work.