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How animals help poker players become healthier

Animals improve the health of poker players: scientific proofs, interesting facts and tips for people who can't have pets

Pets are primarily perceived by people through two lenses: as family members or as another responsibility that requires spending money and attention. However, science looks at them quite differently: as valuable “members” of psychological and physiotherapeutic communities capable of providing unique therapy.

We delved into research on the impact of animal contact on the physical and psychological well-being of humans to answer the question: how can this be beneficial to poker players?

Important! This article is written for people who love animals or have a neutral attitude towards them. If you dislike, fear, or have aversion to animals, it may be worth consulting with a psychologist to understand the underlying reasons for your reaction to other living beings.

Why poker players need animal-assisted therapy

Being a poker player is one of those professions where maintaining both mental and physical health in good condition is very challenging due to a number of well-known reasons.

Chronic stress

It is associated not only with losses but also with the absence of any guarantees of income and job stability. For poker players, stress is the most serious issue and quickly becomes chronic, manifesting itself in fluctuations and prolonged periods of nervous tension.

Sedentary work format

Long sitting sessions – especially for tournament players – have a negative impact on the blood supply to tissues throughout the body, as well as joint mobility and muscle tone. Although some players find ways to cope – alternating between standing and sitting, playing while walking on a treadmill, or using a smartphone – their movements are still limited, which over time adversely affects their overall health.

Lack of communication

Reduction or complete deprivation of social contact due to the nature of the work, as well as the rejection of the poker player by society because of the nature of their profession. Even the closest people rarely understand the player and accept their career choice without judgment, expressions of concern, and the use of offensive clichés. In contrast, players often choose to surround themselves with like-minded individuals, thereby increasing the distance between their social group and other groups in society.

Sleep and rest problems

An issue particularly relevant to tournament players, whose sessions can last indefinitely or be cut off in the early stages of the game. Stress also plays a significant role in worsening sleep and increasing feelings of fatigue, as it increases players’ tiredness and nervousness, making them more anxious and irritable.

Distorted perception

The negative aspects of poker can worsen a player’s mental state, triggering individual psychological characteristics they may have. For example, among poker players, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is quite common, which sometimes can be accompanied by hyperactivity, as well as a tendency to cognitive distortions – all of which can be exacerbated by poker.

How regular contact with animals can help poker players?

According to the article by doctors of science Lawrence Robinson and Joanne Segal “The Health and Mood-Boosting Benefits of Pets“, as well as a comprehensive analysis on a similar topic from the Mental Health Foundation, living with and regularly interacting with pets have a beneficial effect on people in several ways.

Thus, when compared to people without pets, pet owners, on average, demonstrate a noticeable decrease in:

  • The risk of developing depression and the severity of its symptoms;
  • Blood pressure spikes in stressful situations;
  • Overall stress levels and the volume of hormones released during stressful reactions;
  • Cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood — both of which contribute to the development of cardiovascular problems;
  • Anxiety, nervousness, and the intensity of neurotic reactions;
  • Insecurity and self-doubt;
  • Feelings of loneliness and unworthiness;
  • The consequences of heart attacks.

At the same time, they contribute to positive changes in life, such as:

  • Increasing physical activity and even promoting weight loss — through walks and play both outdoors and indoors;
  • Helping to meet new people — often pets become the main topic of discussion, which promotes social bonding without involving professional occupation;
  • Providing structure to the day — regardless of the type of animal, it needs to be fed several times a day, cleaned up after, or taken for walks, among other care activities. All of this requires time and space, and since the animal is alive (unlike any task such as “taking out the trash”), it does not allow one to forget about the associated tasks. This change is of great importance for players with ADHD or other mental constitution peculiarities that make self-discipline difficult.
  • Increasing the release of serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine, and other hormones that improve mood and make a person more calm and relaxed.
  • Teaching sensitivity to the well-being of others — an animal cannot explain in words whether it is sad or happy, it wants to play, eat, or urgently go to the bathroom. All of this must be remembered by observing its behavior — and regular exercises in this direction increase the overall level of empathy.

Of course, life with animals has several unpleasant moments that overshadow the positive aspects.

You can’t negotiate with an animal. If you are in the midst of a session and the animal has become unruly, started running around the apartment, interfering with you, and damaging the environment — convincing it to wait until you are free is impossible.

The suffering of a beloved pet can greatly affect mental health. The experiences from illness and grief from the death of a pet can traumatize, up to causing serious harm to a person’s mental state.

The daily routine of an animal may differ radically from yours. And many animals will not adjust to you — not because they are malicious, but because their lifestyle and daily routine are determined by nature.

An animal requires a lot of money and attention. If you want your pet to be healthy and happy, you will have to spend substantial sums on its food, medical care, grooming, and other procedures. Along with money, you will also have to spend time — a dog will not take care of its own business, a cat will not choose its own food, a chinchilla will not play by itself, and so on.

Who is more beneficial: cats, dogs, or other animals?

Since the 19th century, dogs have remained the primary therapeutic animals. There are two main reasons for this: many breeds are inclined to be friendly and non-aggressive towards humans, and they are easier to train for specific purposes than other animals.

Dogs have shown effectiveness in therapy for over a hundred years. However, as domestic therapy animals, they have several significant drawbacks:

  • Many “safe” breeds for therapy are quite large or require special care — Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Poodles, Newfoundlanders, Border Collies, Yorkshire Terriers, and so on.
  • Dogs can cause serious injuries to humans during play.
  • They require many conditions for comfortable living — from sufficient space to veterinary care.

Moreover, dogs do not live very long — on average 10-13 years.

Alternative choices of animals only became active in the 1970s. Not all animals have passed the “test of time” — below under the headings, you will find details on the most popular ones.


Cat therapy has appeared relatively recently and is only beginning to gain momentum. According to research from 2000 to 2020, it was difficult to conduct adequate experiments with their participation due to the inability to teach a cat patience with any people, as well as an extensive historical background in various countries where cats were either worshipped or feared due to their association with evil.

However, people’s fear of larger animals, including phobias associated with dogs, as well as the widespread presence of cats in society, gradually led to attempts to turn them into therapists.

According to a study by a group of Polish scientists from 2016, interaction with cats provides people with the same benefits as with dogs but adds several of its own:

  • The purring of cats has a calming effect on people and even stimulates pain relief.
  • Stroking a cat and combing its fur help improve limb control and fine motor skills.
  • Tactile sensations from touching a cat stimulate the release of increased doses of happiness hormones.
  • Playing with a cat increases attentiveness and the ability to concentrate, as this animal moves faster and more diversely than any dog.

Moreover, cats live longer than dogs — on average 12-18 years.

Of course, there are also downsides. Even specially trained cats are independent animals with a limited supply of patience for humans and a biologically determined ability to experience sensory overload due to excessive tactile contact. Also, cats often unintentionally injure people during play, and due to the structure of their claws, the inflicted wounds heal slowly and can be very painful even with minor depth and area.


Contact with horses has been used in therapy since the 1990s. It quickly became the second most popular after dogs but was sharply criticized for its high traumatic nature and the unpredictability of animal behavior when interacting with strangers.

As of 2024, there are no reconfirmable studies that would confirm the effectiveness of involving horses for therapeutic purposes. However, some studies and surveys of experiment participants show a pronounced positive impact on the overall mental state of people, primarily those with individual mental development peculiarities (for example, those in the autism spectrum).


Swimming with dolphins was widely advertised and used in 1970-1990 in more than 65 countries worldwide, but it quickly came under criticism due to the unproven effectiveness combined with high risks for humans. By the 21st century, this type of therapy had essentially turned into a tourist attraction.

Interestingly, as of 2024, dolphin therapy has gained a new breath in virtual reality — several studies of similar therapy forms have shown that it can reduce stress levels in patients with depression, anxiety, and psychotic disorders, without the risks associated with dolphins.

What to do if I cannot or do not want to have a pet?

Allergies you or other family members have, unsuitable housing for the comfortable life of a pet, protests from loved ones, or your own unwillingness to care for an animal are compelling reasons to reject the idea of ​​having one. However, this does not mean that all opportunities for contact with animals or gaining close experience have ended.

Solution 1: Friends with pets

The simplest solution — if you have no medical contraindications — is to interact with the animals of your friends. Naturally, it is worth asking them not only for permission but also for information about the preferences of the animal beforehand.

Solution 2: Petting Zoo or Farm

Visiting petting zoos is well suited for safe contact with various animals. Typically, there is a wide selection of small non-aggressive animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs, raccoons, or rats that are accustomed to human hands and are safe. An alternative is an open farm for contact with farm animals like goats, cows, sheep, or alpacas. They are larger but used to constant contact with humans while being in their usual environment. Before visiting any of these places, familiarize yourself with the rules and make sure that the animals are kept in good and veterinarian-controlled conditions.

Solution 3: Stables and Kennels

In kennels and stables, where animals are bred and kept for people’s livelihoods, as well as for breeding, there are often days of free visits when you can come and, under the supervision of staff, interact with the animal.

Solution 4: Toys or Stuffed Animals

You can get yourself a full-size taxidermic stuffed animal, like the characters from the TV series “Scrubs” Turk and JD, as well as The Janitor.

If this seems strange or unpleasant to you, toys are also a good option. Moreover, on the market, you can find models that accurately mimic the fur of a specific animal to the touch.

Solution 5: Go into Nature and Zoos

If it is enough for you to look at an animal to get a charge of positive energy and tranquility — go to parks or squares where there is plenty of wildlife, as well as large zoos. Thus, along with animal therapy, you will get additional impressions and health benefits from walking.

Rules of animal therapy for poker players

  1. Choose an animal that brings you the greatest positive feelings. Do not rely on other people’s recommendations — if cats help a blogger, your acquaintance, or relative feel better, it does not mean they will help you too. Do not be afraid to choose a strange animal — the main thing is that you like it.
  2. Do not get a pet if you cannot afford to care for it and cover medical expenses.
  3. Do not treat the animal as a tool to satisfy your needs. If it is busy with its own activities — eating, grooming, sleeping, and so on — do not disrupt its routine to seek comfort and support. When you feel such an impulse, imagine yourself in the animal’s place and ask yourself: how would I react to this?
  4. Do not overload the animal with tactile contact. Cats, raccoons, and some breeds of dogs may quickly become saturated with your touches and become aggressive from the desire to rest. If you see that the animal is avoiding, showing dissatisfaction, or walking away — give it a break.
  5. Do not hug the animal without coordination with its owner, the staff of the place where you are interacting with it, or without the expressed desire of the animal, if it is your pet. Animals do not perceive hugs the same way humans do — for some, they represent an attempt to attack and immobilize, which can provoke aggression.