The Healing Power of the Human-Animal Bond

You may not be hearing, “take two aspirin and get some rest,” from your Doctor anymore. Instead, your prescription may be to “pet your dog.”

For those of us that love and live with animals, we already know something that researchers are working hard to prove – pets are good for people. Research has found that the mere act of petting a dog decreases blood pressure and heart rate. In another study, research found significant reductions in the frequency of minor physical ailments, such as headaches, colds, or hay fever, in individuals that recently brought a cat or dog into their home.

Not only can companion animals help prevent minor illnesses, they may actually help reduce your chance of developing more chronic conditions. In the 1990’s, researchers discovered the risk factor for coronary heart disease was lower for pet owners than people that didn’t live with a pet. Researchers also found that pets lowered the levels of serum triglycerides in elderly pet owners. High levels of triglycerides have been associated with increase risks of heart attacks.

In one of the most widely cited studies in this field, it was reported that pet owners, were significantly more likely to still be alive one year after a heart attack than people that did not have a pet. And in another study, the focus was on the fact that interacting with animals can increase people’s level of the hormone oxytocin. In addition to helping us feel happy and more trusting, oxytocin effects the body’s ability to be in a state of readiness to heal.

Researchers continue to search for facts to prove the benefits of living with pets, but animal lovers don’t need numbers. Ask a pet owner and they will tell you how animals benefit people:

  • Pets can relieve stress, reduce anxiety, loneliness and depression.
  • Pets make us feel better about ourselves.
  • Pets help us meet people and be more social.
  • Pets are non-judgmental and we can tell them things we would never tell another person.
  • Pets give us unconditional love.

We see dogs and other animals raising the quality of life for people everyday; the trained assistant dogs that help people suffering from autism, seizures, and disabilities live independently, or the therapy dogs that were brought in to help children process the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Trained therapy animals are visiting hospital wards, senior homes and prisons, helping to break the vicious cycles of loneliness that many people experience in these situations.

Most of the research done to date has been conducted on companion animals, but wild animals have much to offer humans also. The case of Cheyenne the wolf, demonstrated the healing power of the human animal bond. Cheyenne has passed but she touched many people in her lifetime.

First, its important to know that wolves are very skittish and shy away from people. They would rather run than confront us. And even though Cheyenne was raised by people from the time she was young, she still did not accept everyone. People would come to see her, and if she took a liking to them, she would allow people to pet her or she may nuzzle or lick them. If she didn’t trust you, she would shy away. It was a great honor to be accepted by Cheyenne. She was visited by 19,000 people but she only bonded with approximately 1500.

Cheyenne was also said to be able to detect an illness in people. In 2005, her owners claim she detected cancer in approximately 20 people. We know today that dogs can be trained to sniff out cancer and other diseases, but Cheyenne did this without training. She would approach the person and lick the area where she detected the illness.

While the researchers continue to try and determine the healing power of the human animal bond, animal lovers continue to celebrate it. People that live with animals already know their lives are better because they share it with animals.

For more information on the healing power of the human-animal bond, contact Jamie Lee at

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