The supposed wellness trend includes people touring farms and then spending up to three hours hugging and hanging out with the calming cows.
The practice is called koe knuffelen in Dutch, which translates to “hugging cow.” According to the BBC, “Cow cuddling is believed to promote positivity and reduce stress by boosting oxytocin in humans, the hormone released in social bonding. The calming effects of curling up with a pet or emotional support animal, it seems, are accentuated when cuddling with larger mammals.”
The practice isn’t just limited to the Netherlands — it’s also available at some farms in the U.S.
Mountain Horse Farm in Naples, N.Y., offers a cow and horse experience where you can cuddle with these large animals for $75 an hour. According to its website, it’s a “unique way of connecting, interacting, getting close, playing, learning, sharing space, finding wellness and having fun with our herd of horses and cows.”
Prairie Conlon, professional counselor and clinical director of CertaPet, tells Yahoo Life: “As odd as it may sound, if it helps, then go for it! It’s a healthy way to increase activity and get those endorphins flowing, so why not? I have seen lives changed using equine-assisted psychotherapy. This does not involve riding the horse, which is a common misconception. This involves spending time with and reflecting on the animals’ movements and behaviors.”
Conlon adds: “As the cow is also a prey animal and has similar behaviors, I can absolutely see how it could be beneficial for therapy. Not to mention, cuddling with animals in general releases those ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters.”
While cuddling with cows may sound strange to some, there are several studies showing the therapeutic benefits of being around and close to animals in general. A September 2020 study published in PLOS One looked at the bond between animals and humans and its effect on people’s mental health during the global pandemic.
Of the more than 5,000 U.K. residents who participated in the study, nearly 90 percent of them had at least one companion animal. The researchers found smaller decreases in mental health during the pandemic in people who had companion animals. “Animal ownership seemed to mitigate some of the detrimental psychological effects of COVID-19 lockdown,” according to the researchers in the study.
The researchers also found that it didn’t matter what the animal was, noting in the study that the “strength of the human-animal bond in terms of emotional closeness or intimacy dimensions appears to be independent of animal species.”
Conlon explains that domesticated animals in general need “routine and accountability” and that they often depend on their owners. “Taking care of them often increases participation in your own self-care,” she says. “They make us laugh, they are a calming presence when we are sad, and they are mindful and in the moment, which can be incredibly freeing from all the worrisome situations we are having to deal with during this uncertain time.”
Spending time with animals in particular during quarantine can be “beneficial in helping combat loneliness and creating routine and accountability,” says Conlon. “With everything from school to work, we are experiencing uncertainty. Having an animal that needs care, activity and routine on a daily basis can be incredibly grounding.”
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