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First Published Wednesday, 22 April 2009


Psychologist claims dogs reduce stress quicker than drugs

by Alec Young
News Staff

Monday, April 20th, 2009

There is a growing body of evi­dence that suggests man’s best friend also helps mental health. That’s according to Dr Stanley Coren, a researcher in the UBC department of psychology, who has just completed a study on dog ownership and depression.

His latest work is part of a se­ries of studies that conclude that individuals experience reduced stress levels when in the pres­ence of their pet.
When a subject suffering from depression or stress is with their dog, they experience immediate physiological changes, including slower heartbeat, muscle relax­ation and more regular breath­ing patterns.

What’s more extraordinary is that the beneficial effect is ex­tremely rapid, especially when compared to medication. While antidepressants can require sev­eral weeks to become effective, having a friendly dog nearby can counter stress within thirty sec­onds to a minute.

“We can show that the pres­ence of the dog is actually more stress reducing than having a family member around,” Dr Co­ren said. He believes this could possibly be because a dog’s affec­tion is almost unconditional. A dog will not criticize in the same way a family member might.

Dog ownership also has a ben­efit for the elderly, who are more prone to clinical depression and require more frequent medical attention. Elderly people with a dog’s companionship are only one quarter as likely to develop clinical depression.

Anecdotal evidence about the health benefits of dog ownership has existed for years. Sigmund Freud claimed that having a chow chow in his office helped calm visiting children. In the 1950s, psychologists began to note posi­tive change in autistic children’s behavior when they were with a dog. Now, says Coren, “we’re find­ing just how powerful these effects really are. We’re actually taking physiological measures, looking at the chemistry of the blood, find­ing that this is not just a placebo effect. These are real physiological effects and you can effectively see the stress drain away.”

Another study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania found that men who had suf­fered their first heart attack were much more likely to be alive years later if they owned a dog. Researchers there con­cluded that the stress reduc­tion offered by the pet helped reduce the effects of coronary disease.

The stress-reduction benefit is not breed specific. According to Dr Coren, when it comes to pet-specific therapy a docile Lab­rador retriever is just as effective as an energetic terrier. As long as the animal is familiar and friendly, it will have a positive effect.

Unfortunately for cat lovers, the health benefits of pet owner­ship are most closely associated with dogs.

“Cats tend to be more aloof,” Dr Coren said. “They’re better than nothing, better than [own­ing] a bowl of fish, but [the ben­efit] seems to be associated with the level of interaction.”

So are Canadian doctors likely to start prescribing dog owner­ship as a form of therapy in the future? Dr Coren says this is a possibility, especially since there is a cost-benefit ratio to be con­sidered. “If you can eliminate even two visits to a doctor or psychologist over the course of a year, that [saves] $200 or $300,” Coren said.

Dr Coren said that the UK is the only country where dogs, usu­ally papillons, are “prescribed” as companions for health rea­sons. However, the UK National Health Service website offers no information on this practice.

Source:   http://www.ubyssey.ca/?p=8064

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