Over 11,000 years ago, during the Neolithic era, humans began transitioning from a nomadic lifestyle, to an agrarian one (Britannica, 2021). During this period, humans began domesticating animals in order to assist them in their daily tasks. What began with the training and selective breeding of goats and livestock back then, has blossomed into the vast array of domesticated animals we currently have at our disposal (Hunter, 2018). Today, domesticated animals take on a variety of tasks from farmwork to companionship. In more recent times, animals have even taken on the role of healer! In this article we are going to examine the therapeutic and healing aspects of human-animal relationships.
Let’s face it, humans and animals share a deep, innate connection. Human interaction with animals affects the levels of both oxytocin (the bonding hormone) and cortisol (stress hormone) in the human body as well as psychological states (Beetz et al., 2012; Rault et al., 2020). It is for this reason that animals are often involved in therapeutic interventions! In fact, several studies have shown that including animals in the treatment of chronically ill patients has been found to significantly reduce stress and increase happiness in this population (Jones et al., 2019; Machová et al., 2019; Sahebalzamani et al., 2020). Additionally, research on patients with brain injuries showed a significant increase in social engagement for patients who participated in animal therapy (Hediger et al., 2019).
As you can see, animals can play an incredibly important role in the health and well-being of humans. They can help us to feel connected, important, and happy. So the next time you cuddle your pet, make sure to thank them for their companionship and unconditional love!