Scientists recently showed that interacting with cats and/or dogs to relieve some of the stress can not only improve people's moods, but they can get 'under the skin' and have stress-relieving physiological benefits. "Just 10 minutes can have a significant impact," the researcher said. “Students in our study who interacted with cats and dogs had significant reductions in cortisol, a key stress hormone.”
The study of 249 students was divided into four groups. The first group had hands-on interaction in small groups with cats and dogs for 10 minutes. They could pet, play with, and generally hang out with the animals as they pleased.
To compare the effects of different animal exposures, the second group observed other people petting animals while they waited in line for their turn. The third group watched a slideshow of the same animals during the intervention, while the fourth group was 'on the waiting list'. Those students quietly waited their turn for 10 minutes without their phones, reading materials, or other stimuli, but were told they would soon experience animal interaction.
Several salivary cortisol samples were collected from each participant, starting in the morning when they woke up. After mixing all the data from the different samples, the students who interacted directly with the pets showed significantly less cortisol in their saliva after the interaction. These results were found even when considering that some students had very high or low levels at the beginning.