The science behind human-animal interaction
The field of human-animal interaction research has been growing rapidly over the past several decades. There is increasing evidence that owning a pet or simply interacting with one can bring physical and mental health benefits to people of all ages and from all walks of life:
Pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and better overall heart health.
Pets can provide emotional support for children, help them deal with stress, be more self-confident, and understand responsibility.
Dogs may help prevent loneliness and isolation, supporting mental wellness.
Older, homebound pet owners have been shown to be better at paying attention, remembering details, and learning from past experiences than those who don’t own pets.
People who use pet therapy while recovering from surgery may need significantly less pain medicine than those who do not.
Adults with pets have healthier responses to stress, including a lower heart rate and blood pressure.
Our support for high quality research into the human-animal bond
We have been supporting and partnering with leading universities and research organisations worldwide to help advance our scientific understanding of human-animal interaction and how pet ownership or pet interaction can bring health benefits to both pets and people. Quality science can inform health policies and help develop evidence-based, tailored therapies and programmes for those struggling with mental or physical health issues.
The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health
For over 10 years, thanks to our public-private partnership with NIH/NICHD, we have been supporting researchers across the world in their quest to better understand how our relationship with pets can benefit children and adults alike. Studies have included both pets and therapy animals, using methods such as assessing stress by analysing blood cortisol levels and monitoring heartbeat and breathing rates during animal-assisted interventions.
The Human-Animal Bond Research Institute
We are supporting research that can help us better understand the role pets could play in tackling social isolation - a serious public health issue affecting 3 in 5 people in the US and 9 million people in the United Kingdom.
Our collaboration with the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) led to the first-ever Social Isolation and Companion Animals Summit. The event helped human and animal health experts and researchers identify ways to advance human-animal interaction science as well as best practices and solutions to improve access to pet interaction or pet ownership for those who could benefit most, including aging adults or people struggling with mental health issues.
The findings of a 2019 US market survey served as common ground for the Summit discussion. Over 80% of pet owners interviewed felt that pet interaction can help reduce loneliness. Over 55% of the older adults taking part in the survey got a pet to improve their mental health.Pets and loneliness: survey results The Social Isolation Summit Report
Some of the studies we have helped fund in collaboration with our partners have found:
Walking with shelter dogs can have a positive impact on veterans’ perceived stress and PTSD symptoms
Therapeutic horseback riding can have long-lasting benefits for children with autism spectrum disorder
Therapy dogs can help boost college students' attention and memory, as well as help them tackle stress
Dogs can help children cope with attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Having a pet dog in the home has been associated with a reduced risk of childhood anxiety
Pet dogs may help pre-teens cope better with stress
Growing up with a pet can bring social, emotional and educational benefits to children and teenagers
Human-animal interaction science: steps ahead
Despite recent progress in the field, human-animal interaction research still faces important challenges. Additional quality studies can help healthcare professionals understand who exactly - and under what circumstances - can benefit most from animal therapy or other specific animal-assisted interactions. This is why we are supporting researchers’ efforts to develop a sound framework for research design.
I probably don't have to convince you that animals have incredible powers to help us in so many ways and, as human's best friend, dogs are a prime example. From the classroom to the hospital and beyond, dogs can do incredible things.
It's been an exciting month for human-animal interaction science. New research published in the American Heart Association's medical journal found an association between dog ownership and owners' lower mortality risk.