There’s pet therapy, equine therapy, and now cow therapy to cuddle your stress away. From emotional support animals to goat yoga, animals show that their natural presence helps wash away stress, anxiety, and overwhelming emotions. And now a new trend is starting to emerge called cow-cuddling. For a nominal fee, you can cuddle your stress away with a friendly cow on a free-range farm. Could animal stress therapy help you? While it isn’t for everyone, spending time with animals in a therapeutic setting may just be what the doctor ordered.
Different Types of Animal Stress Therapy
Animals can provide a variety of services for humans. Some animals are trained as service animals, assisting a person with a specific need. Others are trained as therapy animals. The most common therapy animals are dogs and cats. But other animals, from goats and horses to fish and now cows, can be used for therapeutic purposes. (1)
There are two distinctions within pet therapy, what we typically would think of as “general animal stress therapy”. Animal-assisted therapy is a formal program that helps participants with a specific treatment goal. Usually animal-assisted therapy is paired with psychotherapy sessions. The animals help those who are struggling with addiction, depression, or other challenges to open up and begin trusting again. In recent years, many animals have been studied to understand how they are effective in helping humans reach their goals. (1)
A wonderful example of animal-assisted therapy is Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy. Studies show that participants felt more independent, living more in the present, and decreased negative thoughts and depression symptoms when utilizing this therapy. (2)
Animal-assisted activities occur in less formal settings, where an animal and their handler interact with people for comfort or recreation. The therapeutic benefits can relieve stress, anxiety, and help us connect back to the earth in a healthy way. If you’ve seen articles about goat yoga or airport traveler therapy animals, these are animal-assisted activities. These activities have been linked to a healthier heart, and help people cope with diabetes, ADHD, and the day-to-day pressures that can lead to stress. (1,3)
Cow-cuddling is the newest idea to gain attention among animal-assisted activities. What originated in the Netherlands has gained popularity around the world, including parts of the United States, which offers cow-cuddling as a new form of animal stress therapy. Owners and handlers share that cow-cuddling is not a petting zoo, but about getting close to nature, and doing something that is exhilarating and yet also encourages us to take it easy. Getting to know a cow, or horse, or another animal that we humans have intrinsic connections with, calms us and fills us with peace. (4,5)
Benefits of Cow-Cuddling and Other Animal Stress Therapies
While studies on animal stress therapy are few and far between, participants in animal-assisted therapy and activities know that it can bring many benefits. The human-animal bond is strengthened and helps people in a variety of ways, including:
- Decreased feelings of loneliness
- Reduced feelings of boredom and distraction
- More engagement with others and improved outlook on life
- Decreased anxiety and stress
- More motivation and focus on the present moment
- Improved appreciation and empathy for others
- Calmer mind and less tension
- Lower blood-pressure and reduced heart rate (1,6,7)
Cows have a warmer body temperature and slower heartbeat than humans. Studies suggest that people who interact with cows in close approximation will experience lower heart rates and feel more relaxed. This can boost oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, and aid in bonding with animals, nature, and other people. (7)
Cuddling Pets Works, Too
Cows aren’t the only path to releasing oxytocin and reducing stress. Being with our pets at home has a calming effect on our minds and our bodies as well. Ground-breaking research has shown positive health benefits from being around animals in our own home.
Depending on your own personal ambitions, animals can help achieve fitness goals or relieve stress and day-to-day pressures. A dog requires walking, so you can improve your health through physical exercise. Watching fish is proven to be relaxing and reduces stress. Some people with cat or dog allergies have developed a strong bond with their reptilian pets. Snakes, lizards, and turtles respond positively to caretakers handling them, which owners state is as calming and soothing as petting a cat or dog. Our pets, whether they fly, swim, trot, or slither, can serve as a source of wonderful comfort and support. There is no one best animal to do the job. (8)
Starting Animal Stress Therapy Early
Animals have a positive impact on children’s growth and resiliency, too. A study on children with ADHD showed that dogs are effective in improving behavior. The children in the study were separated into two groups. One group read to a therapy dog, while the other group read to dog puppets. The children who read to the actual dogs rather than toys demonstrated better social skills and more cooperative behaviors such as sharing and volunteering. (8)
But once again, farm animals are stepping into the spotlight to help our children flourish better as well. A small elementary school in Cornwall, England has incorporated farm animals into the curriculum. The result is not just more engaged children and families, but a resiliency and strong life skills developed at an early age. Students learn responsibility taking care of goats, chickens, and other critters. They develop empathy and the activities motivate learning initiatives (such as reading to animals encouraging reading skills). (9)
Why Animals are So Good for Stress Therapy
Participants in animal-assisted activities may not exactly understand how or why they are so relaxed after their sessions. But many animal experts provide meaningful insight. Unlike humans, other animals live in the present moment. In fact, the ability to focus their attention on the person spending time with them helps others practice mindfulness to decrease stress. While people need to learn these skills, animals do it pretty instinctually. (8)
Many farm animals are prey animals that live in herds. This means that they have a tendency to emulate how other herd members behave, as well as humans. They respond accordingly to a person’s mood and emotional state. If someone approaches a horse with anger, the horse will react with fear or even obstinance. This mirroring of human emotions helps those who are struggling with their issues see firsthand how their actions affect others. (2)
Animals are good at not judging, and appear to listen without overanalyzing. Being able to snuggle or be close to our pets, or a cuddle-therapy animal allows our defenses to come down. We separate from the constant fight-or-flight pressures of our daily lives.
While cow therapy sounds appealing, and helpful in maintaining a balance in our lives, we can create balance and harmony with nature and ourselves right at home. Whether you seek comfort from your pets at home, volunteer to help pets in need, or seek out the aid of animal stress therapy, good vibes start with a clear and relaxed mind, using Be Serene for instant relief. Find comfort today, and connect with nature in a healthy and positive way.