When you think of a therapy pet, your mind might immediately go to a dog or a cat. But have you ever considered a cow?
That’s right — a therapy cow. Well, more specifically, a therapeutic cuddle session with a cow.
It sounds a bit strange, but according to Good Morning America, cow cuddling has been a common practice in the Netherlands for a while now. In Dutch, cow cuddling is referred to as “koe knuffelen,” translating to “cow hugging,” which is basically what these sessions are.
This wellness phenomenon spiked significantly in popularity in the U.S. at the beginning of COVID-19. When the country shut down and all of us were thrown into isolation, there were high levels of stress, anxiety and loneliness. People across the country tried to adjust to a new normal. We saw a rise in self-care trends on social media. TikTok was flooded with skin care tips and at-home workout ideas, and numerous wellness trends took social platforms by storm — all to help make everyone feel a little less alone.
Soon, paying to cuddle a cow for comfort spread from the Netherlands to gain more popularity and media coverage in the U.S.
And for good reason! Surprisingly, there are a lot of benefits associated with a cow hugging session, which is spent just hugging, cuddling or spending time with a cow. Each client’s session with the cows will vary — some may spend more time hugging the cows, while others may prefer to simply pet them. The time spent in the session is supposed to help alleviate stress and anxiety.
In 2021, a survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 11.7% of adults ages 18 and over experience regular feelings of worry, anxiety and nervousness. Additionally, 44% of high school students reported in 2021 that they experienced hopelessness in the past year. The pandemic has had major impacts on mental health. Cow cuddling is not a solution, but it’s an option to help visitors feel slightly better temporarily.
Studies have shown that even just being around animals can help decrease the stress hormone cortisol. Our furry friends have always been a major source of stress relief, love and connection. The goal of cuddling a cow is to boost oxytocin. BBC explains that this hormone, which is released in social bonding, helps to reduce stress and increase positivity. Even the simple act of cuddling helps increase the release of oxytocin, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
According to the CDC, animals can also help reduce feelings of loneliness — something a lot of us could use. Whether you’re struggling with the aftermath of isolation from the pandemic or hitting a rough spot in your life, spending time with animals can help you feel comfort and consolation. Additionally, since cows are larger and therefore have a slower heartbeat, this can bring additional feelings of comfort.
But, what’s in it for the cows?
These cuddling sessions might also be more beneficial to the cows than expected. Reports from the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science showed that stroking a cow helped the animal relax. Repeated petting showed signs of even further relaxation for the animals, which, supposedly, helps lower the cow’s heart rate.
For anyone worried about the cows’ safety and willingness to participate in the cuddle sessions, there are farms that put the animals’ well-being first. If a cow won’t stay with the client, no one will force them to. Farm owners make it clear that the session is completely voluntary for both humans and animals. But usually, cows are loving creatures that are happy to help someone feel a little less alone.
However, cow cuddling isn’t supposed to be a replacement for therapy. You won’t magically fix any underlying issues which may be impacting your mental health. The wellness trend isn’t intended to do this, but these sessions can act as a momentary release of anxiety and stress.
So, if you’re feeling a little down and looking for a unique way to cope, cow cuddling might be a fun wellness trend to try. It won’t fix any problems, but the experience itself might be just enough to brighten your day. In Texas, there aren’t many farms or animal sanctuaries that offer cow cuddling, but TexasGaushala in Waller, TX offers cow cuddling sessions that you can book online.