Petting dogs and cats reduces stress levels, new study says

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Keep petting your furry friends, Tampa Bay. A new study says that petting dogs and cats in real situations can lower stress levels.

Researchers at Washington State University say interacting with animals can decrease stress in humans, according to newly-released data.

The study — which is said to be the first to demonstrate lowered cortisol levels in a realistic scenario instead of a laboratory — consisted of 249 college students who were separated into four groups. 

The first group was able to play with and pet cats and dogs for 10 minutes. The second group observed other people playing with animals while they waited in line to interact with the animals.

The third group watched a slideshow of the same animals and the final group was “wait-listed” meaning they quietly waited for 10 minutes to interact with the animals, without their phones or other stimuli.

Several salivary cortisol samples were collected from each participant throughout the day of the experiment.

The study found that students who interacted directly with the pets showed significantly less cortisol in their saliva after the interaction.

Cortisol — which is a steroid hormone that regulates various processes in the body, such as metabolism and the immune response — is key in dealing with stress.

Associate professor at WSU’s Department of Human Development, Patricia Pendry, along with WSU graduate student Jaymie Vandagriff, published the research in AERA Open, an open-access journal published by the American Educational Research Association.

Right here in Tampa Bay, the University of South Florida has periodic “paws and relax” events where they invite dogs and other animals to come and get some attention while students on campus can find some stress relief by petting a furry friend.

The Center for Student Wellness at USF holds the two-hour-long events during the last weeks of the semester, when students may be at their most stressed.

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