Can hugging a cow ease depression and anxiety?

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While relatively rare, cow cuddling—or cow hugging as it’s sometimes called—may be an effective form of animal-assisted therapy, a new study finds.

The study added a new twist: women were more receptive to bovine-assisted therapy than men were.

For the study, published in the journal Human-Animal Interactions, the researchers arranged for a group of 11 volunteers to spend 45 minutes each with one of two steers with varying degrees of gregariousness.

The study was conducted at a micro-farm called Surrey Hills Sanctuary in New York State. Volunteers ranged in age from 13 to 79. After the sessions, they filled out a survey and discussed their experience.

One of the voluntary participants responded that “it wasn’t a big deal to me that he”—one of the bulls, named Callum—”was shy. But when he finally started to approach me, I felt so good! Like I was special.”

Another participant offered that while she was worried that bulls would be aggressive, she “fell in love with cows” after the session. Another stated: “there is something about cows that is so therapeutic,” according to the study.

The predominantly positive responses add to prior research suggesting that time with farm animals holds potential benefits for those engaged in psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy for mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, according to the researchers.

But in an unexpected outcome, the researchers found the “steers showed a strong preference for interactions with women when compared to men and, in turn, the women reported stronger attachment behaviors toward the steers.

“It is unclear without further testing, whether the animals sought out the attention of women in general if the women were more likely to initiate the actions when compared to men participants, according to the researchers.

Therapy animals typically are dogs, cats, horses, or rabbits. But the range of animals can be extended to farm animals including cattle when the therapy is conducted ethically and with special care for both humans and animals.

“We have discovered in the current study,” the authors conclude, “that bovine-assisted therapy may not only be an effective treatment model that benefits human participants but appears to be enriching to the cattle participants, as well, as shown by their proximity to and continuous interactions with humans.”

Katherine Compitus of New York University’s Silver School of Social Work and Sonya M. Bierbower of the chemistry and life science department at West Point are coauthors of the study.

Source: NYU