Robotic animals, real comfort? What the research says

Robotic cats and dogs can be very beneficial for people unable to have a living pet

Fluffy, soft and adorable, our pets – especially dogs and cats – are pets for a reason. We enjoy their company, they are fun to care for, and it is comforting to interact with them. They make us feel less alone and force us to get out of the world a little more.

It is therefore not surprising that when it comes to our mental health, these animals also provide us with many benefits for our physical and mental health.

“Close contact with pets can reduce anxiety and lower blood pressure,” explains Christine Henrilicensed psychologist and nationally certified counselor in Pearland, Texas, specializing in the treatment of trauma patients, pet loss and grief.

“There have been studies which show that owning a pet can increase survival rates for cancer and heart disease (and) owning a pet is inversely linked to depression.

But pets also require work: you have to feed them and take care of them; change their litter boxes, clean their cages, or take them outside for walks and bathroom breaks. And therefore, they are not always suitable for everyone, including the elderly, people with chronic illnesses or those with dementia.

“If a person has mobility issues, they can’t walk their dog to go to the bathroom or clean a litter box,” says Henry. “If someone has memory problems, they may also forget to feed the animal.”

And yet, these people are among those who could benefit most from the company of a pet. Enter: robotic animals.

Well, in many ways, they are exactly what they sound like: they are robots designed to look and act like popular pets, such as cats and dogs.

And while this idea may sound like a children’s toy, these realistic robotic animals, like Fallen robot Or Joy for all pets are actually made for adults. They are gentle, interactive and designed to help combat cognitive decline and loneliness.

Yes, several studies have shown that robotic animals – just like other pets – can improve our health in many ways lowering blood pressure and making us feel less bored or sad.

A small study 2021, for example, gave patients with mild to moderate dementia a robot cat four times a week for 12 sessions and found that these interactions improved the mood of all patients. Additionally, in half of the patients there was a slight improvement in their ability to pay attention and speak.

A similar 2016 study found that a baby seal also improved the mental health of dementia patients, reducing their stress and anxiety levels, as well as their use of painkillers.

Henry says she’s heard about similar benefits from her patients caring for their elderly parents. “(They) reported how having a robot pet improved their loved one’s mood,” she says.

“One client talked about her (older) mother going to the hospital and bringing her robotic pet with her. Not only did it help her stay calm during her hospital stay, but the staff also interacted with the robotic animal.

In other words, the robotic pet gave him a companion – and an excuse to interact and socialize a little more with the staff.

But unlike a real pet, it won’t die if you forget to feed it – and it won’t be a problem for people with animal allergies, either. It can also accompany you to places other animals cannot, such as the hospital.

It depends.

For some people, the robotic pet won’t be as fun as a real pet, especially if you have the ability to take care of a living animal as it needs and take it for walks. Interacting with a real animal – and the sense of responsibility that comes with it – could also really help people suffering from other illnesses.

“A person (in pain), for example, may benefit from having a real pet to help them exercise and complete daily tasks such as feeding the animal,” explains Meghan Downeylicensed clinical psychologist.

But for others, robotic animals might be better.

“For example,” says Downey, “a person (living with) dementia, for example, may benefit more from a robotic pet than a real pet, because they would not be worried or burdened with tasks such as meal times, exercise, and cleaning up after the pet, or the responsibility of having to take them to vet appointments.

Pets can be great for our mental health. If you want to be able to cuddle a wavy-tailed dog, but face the responsibility that comes with owning a pet, robotic pets might be an option. This is also true if you are caring for a loved one who is elderly or has dementia.


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