Petting Dogs, Cats Reduces Stress Levels: New Study

There is now another reason to strengthen the human-animal bond:  A new scientific study has demonstrated that in addition to potential psychological benefits, petting dogs and cats also has stress-relieving physiological benefits.  The study results demonstrated that just 10 minutes of interacting with cats and dogs can produce a significant reduction in cortisol, a major stress hormone.

Study Overview: Methodology

The study tested the effects of petting dogs and cats on a high-stress population: college students.

The study involved 249 college students randomly divided into four groups. The first group received hands-on interaction in small groups with cats and dogs for 10 minutes. They could pet, play with, and generally hang out with the animals as they wanted.

To compare effects of different exposures to animals, the second group observed other people petting animals while they waited in line for their turn. The third group watched a slideshow of the same animals available during the intervention, while the fourth group was “waitlisted.”

Those students waited for their turn quietly for 10 minutes without their phones, reading materials, or other stimuli, but were told they would experience animal interaction soon.

Several salivary cortisol samples were collected from each participant, starting in the morning when they woke up.


The students who interacted directly with the pets showed significantly less cortisol in their saliva after the interaction. These results were found even while considering that some students may have had very high or low levels to begin with.  This is the first study to demonstrate reductions in cortisol levels during a real-life intervention rather than in a laboratory setting.

blur care cat close up


Journal Reference: Patricia Pendry, Jaymie L. Vandagriff. Animal Visitation Program (AVP) Reduces Cortisol Levels of University Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial. AERA Open, 2019; 5 (2): 233285841985259.

Study overview/ DOI: 10.1177/2332858419852592