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SpaceLogo Sciences Participating with Arts & Culture in Education

By Justine Beaudoin-Poulin April 21, 2014

Animal Lovers, Keep On Lovin’

Illustrated by SORA (EUN SOL) PARK

 

School can be a stressful place, especially with final exams approaching. We all have different ways of dealing with stress, but here is one possibility to consider: petting.

Kittens and puppies––who doesn’t like them?

Studies have shown that we can experience a drop in blood pressure by up to 10% after 15-30 minutes of petting a dog. How does this work? According to Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, the sensation on your skin activates Pacinian corpuscles, which are pressure receptors under the skin. These receptors send signals to an area of the brain through what is called the vagus nerve. This nerve has many branches in our body, including to the heart. It is this nerve that then slows down our heart beat and lowers our blood pressure.

This response to the sensation of touch towards a dog also applies to contact between humans. If you give a hug to your brother (or anyone else you know) it will have the same effect on your blood pressure, though we can agree that your dog/cat is much cuter then your brother, so you will probably be more inclined to hug and cuddle with your kitty than your sibling. You can admit it: squeezing your cat makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

On top of helping lower your blood pressure, petting an animal also releases oxytocin which is commonly referred to as the “feel good” or “cuddle” hormone. "Oxytocin is a neuropeptide which basically promotes feelings of devotion, trust and bonding," says psychologist Matt Hertenstein. This release of oxytocin is one of the reasons why animal therapy is considered a good thing for children with autism, who struggle with being able to feel a bond and trust towards others, and feeling it towards animals can be a first step.

Being in the company of a pet also has the positive effect of lowering levels of the stress hormone called cortisol. According to a study done by researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Stroke Institute in Minneapolis, the risks of having a heart attack could be reduced by almost 1/3 by owning a cat. Having a kitty can also boost your immune system. Why? Because cats are hilarious! When you see your cat jump for no reason or do a cute stupid thing, you laugh (well I do), and according to a Loma Linda University's study, laughter increases your immunoglobulins by 14%. Researchers note that pet owners have, amongst many other benefits, lower cholesterol levels and better chances of dealing with depression.

Returning to the potential for pets to lower stress, Dalhousie University offered something they called the “Puppy Room” during final exam period in 2012, which was a success. How did this work? Therapeutic Paws of Canada, a non-profit organization, came by the university with a few dogs. After thorough planning by the Dalhousie Student Union, students had the chance to pet dogs after their exams to release stress or take a break from studying. Halifax and McGill University also offered this stress relieving activity for their students.

Final exams are starting soon here at Dawson. Aren't we all facing a little stress? Why not try an innovative way of relieving it?

“Puppy Room” (or “Kitty room”) anyone?

About the author

Justine Beaudoin-Poulin is currently a first year student in Pure & Applied Science at Dawson College. She loves learning, travelling, and discovering new cultures. Justine is a passionate animal lover.

About the illustrator

Sora Park is a freelance illustrator who mainly works with traditional mediums. Her work is defined by colourful and whimsical illustrations with narrative. She likes to experiment with different mediums and loves trying out new art styles.

Sora wants to do many things in the near future but her current goal is to be part of the indie game industry to create a unique look for games.

When she is not drawing she enjoys playing video games and searching cat related things.

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