Surprisingly, studies have shown that watching cute animals is good for your health (and dogs fit into that category). The study was largely about stress relief and was performed by the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom1. The researchers concluded that watching videos or looking at pictures of cute animals could help reduce stress levels—sometimes by up to 50%.
Sadly, the study only included 19 participants, so it isn’t the biggest study. It was also done on cute animals, and we don’t know exactly what animals were picked. (What one person sees as “cute” can differ from another’s view.) Therefore, it isn’t the most air-tight study out there.
Luckily, there was another study performed recently that looked at dog videos specifically2. This study provided more information on the types of videos chosen. Therefore, we can look closely at what dog videos may help lower stress.
These studies have a lot to tell us, so let’s look at both.
Cute Animals for Stress Relief
It shouldn’t surprise most people that watching cute animal videos helps relieve stress. However, the University of Leeds set out to gain a scientific understanding of how this works. In the study, 19 participants were assigned to watch 30-minute videos of cute animals. Their heart rate and blood pressure were taken before and after the videos were watched, and most participants wore a heart rate monitor throughout the study.
Many of the participants were students at the university, and the study was done shortly before exams. Therefore, the study assumes that most students were stressed about the upcoming exams. Some of the other participants were support staff and professors who also described being stressed at the time of the study.
According to the biomarkers, before participants watched the videos, all participants were anxious and stressed. Their heart rates and blood pressure were slightly elevated, though the exact amount differed from participant to participant. Some were quite stressed, according to the study.
After watching the videos, many participants had lowered biological markers of stress. In some cases, it was lower by about 50%. Therefore, this proved that watching cute animal videos or looking at pictures reduced stress and enhanced mood. Furthermore, many participants noted that the session was relaxing and distracted them from their stress.
Of course, we don’t know how long the stress-relieving effects lasted, as there was no follow-up after the initial study. More research is needed to determine if the effects wore off soon after and how it affected the participant’s grades.
What About Dogs?
We don’t know exactly what videos were chosen in the previous study. However, there was another study done with only dog videos. This study was inspired by animal-therapy programs, especially those in colleges. During lockdowns, in-person animal therapy wasn’t available to many, though. Therefore, this study sought to discover whether virtual “animal therapy” was effective. In the end, this led to them having participants watch dog videos.
There were several types of videos the participants were assigned to watch.
In the beginning, the participants were asked to take a stressful test. Then, they were assigned one of five videos to watch: an “active dog” playing with a toy, a “tranquil dog” laying down, the “active nature” of a fast-paced waterfall, the “tranquil nature” of a slow-moving stream, or a blank screen (for the control). Then, physical stress responses were measured, such as their stress and anxiety. Subjective measurements were also considered, like an increase in happiness.
Both types of dog videos improved happiness and had a positive effect beyond the control video. However, neither video was better than the other. Both dog videos produced a similar response. With that said, neither dog video improved the physiological signs of stress. The participants described their stress as being lowered, but their body’s stress signs didn’t change much.
The dog videos and nature videos had the same effect. Therefore, both types of videos could positively affect subjective anxiety. However, they don’t seem to affect clinical signs of stress.
The scientists suggested further studies to determine if watching dog videos have the same effect as animal therapy.
Why Do People Watch Dog Videos?
Dog videos do have a subjective effect on happiness and anxiety. Therefore, many people may watch dog videos to put aside their anxiety. However, studies have found that these videos don’t affect the underlying cause of symptoms of stress. Therefore, it’s likely that the videos only distract the watcher for a time. They likely don’t have an underlying, lasting effect.
Still, it can be difficult to be constantly stressed, so taking a study break to watch a cute dog video can be helpful. However, it can become somewhat addictive, as these videos can make your brain release dopamine. Dopamine is the chemical that makes us feel happy. Therefore, we can become addicted to this dopamine release, making us watch dog videos when we should be doing other things.
Dog videos also connect the person and the dog in the videos. Often, the dog is doing something very personality-driven. Therefore, humans can feel like they know the dog, which can combat loneliness. Sometimes, videos can cause the release of serotonin, too—otherwise known as the “bonding” chemical.
This may be why animal-based charities advertise mostly through videos, as they seem to produce a response from many participants.
Dog videos may have some effect on stress and happiness. Two studies have shown that at least cute animal videos can affect the subjective experience. In other words, people are more likely to describe their stress and anxiety as lower after watching a cute dog video. However, studies differ on whether or not physiological signs of stress reduce after watching these videos.
More studies are needed to determine whether or not these videos have an extended effect on stress.