Somehow, interacting with pets is purrr-fectly irresistible whenever we are near them. Playing with them, petting them and in some cases, like dogs or horses, even training them brings us a great deal of joy and satisfaction into our lives – a relaxing break from the buzzing world around us.
What does that have to do with brain injury, you might ask? A lot! Spending time with pets has been found to have many health benefits. It can reduce stress, lower the heart rate and improve overall mood and mental health. Scientists from the University of Basel have recently found that having pets, such as dogs, rabbits or guinea pigs, during a patient’s rehabilitation journey is beneficial for motivation, social engagement and can even be restorative. At the same time, pets benefit because they are cared for, fed, educated and entertained, which creates a nourishing and loving environment and a loyal companionship for them both.
During this unusual period of isolation that is so different to our everyday lives, and with the uncertainty that lies ahead, it is common for our stress and anxiety levels to increase. Studies as far back as Matszek (2010) indicate that interaction with pets on a daily basis releases endorphins that have a relaxing effect on the body, as animals offer safety, security and protection (Cusack and Smith, 1982).
Currently, we find ourselves having even more time spent with our furry friends and we appreciate them more than ever during this Pandemic, a connection that Matszek’s research highlights is “remarkable and valuable”. This is a theme that is also reflected by the work of Cusack and Smith who found that an elderly adult may feel it is inappropriate to receive or dispense affection or emotion, however society accepts that displaying emotion towards a companion animal is unconditional and they provide “non-judgemental love and loyalty”.