Animals have been used in medical settings for over a century and a half, but it is only in the last three decades that this bond between man and mammal has been studied scientifically.
Indeed, an early study from 1980 revealed patients who suffered a heart attack, and also had a pet, lived longer than patients who didn't own one. Other research has also found that petting your own dog can reduce blood pressure.
A more recent study, by the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, discovered an individual’s level of oxytocin increased when they interacted with animals. This hormone makes us happy and trusting and may explain this bonding feeling we get. Oxytocin allows our bodies to grow new cells, preparing us to heal, so we are more likely to be healthy.
Findings such as these have been applied practically. A new project has studied how dogs can help military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan re-adjust to being home.
More directly, animals have been shown to help in the therapy room itself. This is particularly the case with children - animals often put them at ease and leave them more willing to disclose information.
So, it seems animals are good for us and dogs may be 'man’s best friend' after all.
First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations:
Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440, www.edinburghtherapy.co.uk
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411, www.glasgowpsychology.co.uk
Aberdeen: opening soon!
Borders: 01896-800-400, www.borderspsychology.co.uk