Posted in Food Safety on November 7, 2018
I believe it started with goat yoga. The hipster trend where you attempt to make yoga poses with baby goats crawling all over you. These spunky adorable animals add the trendy cuteness factor to an otherwise normal yoga class. Oh yeah, add a couple extra dollar signs to that class as well. Then came cat yoga. Something equally as distracting, but based on the number of cat videos found on the internet – a well-received addition to yoga. From what I have seen most cat yoga classes are designed to help those furry felines get adopted. I can’t say I find anything negative about that. But now there’s a new one: Cow Cuddling.
In our fast-paced world, each of us find our own little ways to unwind. Some with a glass of wine and a book to get lost in, some in a movie that takes us to another world, and some with animal yoga. Others still will find more unconventional ways to unwind.
How about cuddling with a cow. Yes. Bovine. Moo! My grandpa always said, if there is someone that will buy something there will always be someone that will sell it to them. That’s right. For a “small” fee of $300 you can melt your cares away by cuddling a cow. But why? Before I get into all the reasons this new barnyard cross-over is screaming E. coli infection, lets talk about why this trend is so popular.
Cuddling, whether with a partner, a friend, a 4-legged fur baby, or a half ton cow provides more health benefits than you might think. Cuddling is known to provide a calming effect which could lower blood pressure. Some research has shown that even short periods of hand holding and hugging can lower both diastolic and systolic blood pressure. Cuddling may be beneficial to any high blood pressure treatment plan.
Cuddling can also relieve stress and anxiety by increasing dopamine and serotonin in the body. Dopamine and serotonin are neurotransmitters that help to regulate the mood. Dopamine is responsible for regulating the pleasure center in the brain. Boosting those neurotransmitters give you a feeling of happiness. Studies show that cuddling can also be therapeutic, even potentially reducing pain.
I get how cuddling is beneficial. But cuddling a cow? And paying someone for the opportunity to do so? At $300 for a 90-minute session! Whew… Perhaps it is the food safety writer in me, but I see all kinds of issues with this practice. If this is something that you have been looking into or have it on your bucket list, I will share some tips to help you minimize risk during and after your experience.
While cow cuddling is pretty much what it sounds like, it can be much more. A typical “cow cuddling experience” can also include petting and playing with the cows. According to one source, sessions tend to be monitored and facilitated by a licensed counselor and an equine specialist.
The touted claim is that cow cuddling can be comparable to meditation and a great alternative for those who “just can’t get into meditation”. Mountain Horse Farm, a wellness retreat offering this service explains it has a lot to do with temperature and heart rate. “Cows have a body temperature that is slightly higher than humans and their heart rate is lower than ours.” They claim “cuddling up with a cow, feeling that lower heart rate and higher body temperature, is very relaxing.”
The farm describes the cows as sensitive creatures. “They are sensitive, intuitive creatures, which makes them perfect for sensing your emotions and responding to your subtle body language.” Essentially, they feed off your energy and respond to help you overcome it. “They will pick up on what’s going on inside and sense if you are happy, sad, feel lost, anxious, or are excited and they will respond to that without judgement, ego, or agenda,” the Mountain Horse Farm website explains.
I guess I don’t think of cows as being especially nurturing. Though I have heard many stories over time that some pet cows behave much like dogs. I understand the attributes they are ascribing to these therapy cows seems similar to what has been shown in dogs and cats. So perhaps they have especially intuitive cows.
If this is something you are finding yourself drawn to, Mountain Horse Farm offers the service in New York City. A 90-minute session will come to $300, and you can invite a friend to join you. Before you pull out that credit card, hang around a moment while I explain, “what could go wrong.”
There is nothing overtly wrong with hanging out with cows. Aside from tip toeing through the cow patties. What could go wrong? Let’s start with anthrax. Maybe a little brucellosis, sprinkled with camplybacteriosis and E. coli. Then throw in Leptospirosis, Listeria, and ringworm for good measure. How about Tuberculosis? Doesn’t that sound soothing?
Anthrax naturally occurs around farm animals. The bacterium Bacillus anthracis can contaminate soil, food, and water around areas where livestock live. Symptoms can begin anywhere from 1 day to over 2 months from exposure. If untreated, anthrax may spread throughout the body and cause anywhere from severe illness to death.
Brucellosis affects reproduction in animals but can cause other issues in humans. While it is often contracted through birthing tissue or unpasteurized milk of an infected animal (I can’t imagine that being part of the cuddling therapy), it is still something to be aware of. Symptoms usually develop within 6 to 8 weeks of exposure resulting in flu-like symptoms lasting 2 to 4 weeks.
Campylobacter is a bacterium shed in the stool of the infected animal. Animals such as that doting cow can look perfectly fine while harboring harmful bacteria. Symptoms can begin around 2 to 5 days after exposure and cause diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever. More serious or even life-threatening infections can occur in the very young, the very old, and those with a compromised immune system.
E coli is naturally found in the intestinal tract of farm animals such as the cow. While some strains can be innocuous, others can cause serious infection. Symptoms include stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. E. coli can also cause a certain kind of kidney failure. Animals may be infected with no signs of disease.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease transmitted through urine or other bodily fluids. Most animals and some people show no symptoms of infection. People tend to be symptomatic within 2 to 7 days of exposure. Symptoms often include flu-like symptoms and rash. Without medical treatment, symptoms may go away but reappear as more severe disease such as meningitis, or kidney and liver failure.
Listeria monocytogenes can be contracted from infected animals. Things to look out for are drooping ears or lips that hang open. Sometimes animals display disorientation or press themselves into corners. While some people may have no symptoms at all, other may have headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions to go with their flu-like symptoms. Listeria is particularly bad for pregnant women as it may result in miscarriage or still birth.
Just hearing the name ringworm makes my skin crawl. Ringworm is a fungus that can infect the hair, skin, and nails of people and animals. This is spread through direct contact with an infected spot. Watch for hairless or scaly spots on your bovine therapist or you might end up with a souvenir you didn’t pay for. Redness, scaling, cracking of the skin, or a ring-shaped rash might follow infection. I don’t see that accessory showing up in fashion magazines anytime soon.
The bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis can infect a variety of animal and humans. Animals may present weakness, lack of appetite, weight loss, fever, and persistent cough or no symptoms at all. People can become infected by consuming infected animal products, cuts, or by breathing in the bacteria. Namaste. Symptoms may include sores, swollen lymph nodes, difficulty breathing, fever, night sweats, intestinal upset, and/or weight loss.
If you must cuddle with a cow, there are certain things to look out for and measures to take to be sure that you have a SAFE therapeutic experience. First, follow all safety requirements the facility makes. If they say closed toed shoes, skip the cute sandals.
Before you leave, eat, or drink wash your hands. You will be touching all over the cow and will come in contact with anything the cow came in contact with. Your first line of defense is to wash your hands.
Bring a towel with you. Personally, I would want a barrier between the clothes I was wearing and my car’s upholstery. If you happen to track anything onto your clothes (most of the above bacteria can transfer to you and your clothing without looking overtly dirty), you be sure it doesn’t hang around for a while after you visit.
If you can, wash off your shoes and change clothes when you arrive home. You don’t want to track E. coli or Leptospirosis into your home. Otherwise you might give yourself the gift that keeps on giving.
Enjoy your cow cuddling, goat yoga, or whatever makes your heart happy. Safely.
By: Heather Van Tassell, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)