Monday 26 December 2022

One key factor in reducing stress in dogs and cats in shelters is human interaction

Stress has long been recognized as a significant factor in the well-being of animals, including dogs, and has been the subject of numerous studies in both laboratory and shelter settings. These studies have shown that stress can have both physiological and behavioral consequences, including the production of the hormone cortisol (also known as the glucocorticoid hormone). 

Volunteers sit with rescue animals to reduce stress during a storm. Image in public domain.

Elevated levels of cortisol can have negative effects on an animal's health and behavior, and it is therefore important to identify ways to reduce stress in animals, particularly those in shelters.

One key factor in reducing stress in dogs in shelters is human interaction. Research has consistently shown that social support, including interaction with humans, can help to buffer the stress response in animals, including dogs. This may be due to the fact that social interaction can stimulate the production of oxytocin, a hormone that has been shown to reduce cortisol levels and improve well-being.

Enrichment activities centered on human interaction, such as training and play, have been found to be particularly effective in reducing stress in shelter dogs. These activities can also help to improve the behavioral suitability of dogs for adoption, as they may reduce aggressive responses in temperament tests.

It is important to note that the effects of stress on dogs can extend beyond the initial exposure to a stressful event. There is evidence that long-term consequences of stress, including changes in behavior and brain function, can occur even after the initial stressor has been removed. This highlights the importance of addressing stress in shelter dogs not just in the short-term, but also in the long-term.

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