Anyone who has ever pet-parented an animal has probably already experienced the heartwarming effects these furry creatures bring to our lives. The good news is the medical field is also discovering just how healthy a pet therapy session can be for physically or mentally challenged individuals.
There are two different kinds of pet therapy: animal-assisted therapy (AAT), or animal-assisted activities (AAA). In this article we are going to explore the many benefits of both.
Do you think your pet would be perfect for this field of work? We will also explore what it takes to become involved in the worthy cause of pet therapy.
What is Pet Therapy?
Pet therapy relies on the natural bond between humans and animals and their loving interaction when a person is ill or infirm, to help in their healing process, or their general well-being. It has been shown to reduce blood pressure, calm anxiety and trigger the “feel good” portion of the human brain.
Some of the benefits of pet therapy are:
- Improved mood and overall outlook on life
- Reduction in boredom and loneliness
- Reduction in anxiety
- Improved relationships between patient and healthcare providers
- Learning to nurture and to have empathy
- Improved motor skills and joint movement
- Increased self-esteem, verbal skills and social interaction
- Encouragement to exercise
When to Consider Pet Therapy
According to the Mayo Clinic, animal-assisted therapy is very beneficial in assisting and accelerating healing. For people recovering from any significant medical event, the benefits can be tremendous. For example, stroke victims can be encouraged to speak. People who have experienced heart attacks can have an increase in both heart and lung function after only a 12-minute visit with a pet therapy animal.
Animal-assisted activities (“AAA”) differs from animal-assisted therapy in that it has no end goal of healing, but instead aims to improve quality of life. AAA is used to help people in nursing homes, or people struggling to cope with chronic conditions. It is used in grade-schools to encourage reluctant readers or those who struggle with reading aloud, and in universities to relieve stress and anxiety.
Others who can benefit from pet therapy:
- People undergoing dental procedures
- Patients undergoing chemotherapy treatments
- Veterans with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Long-term care or palliative care patients
Current studies are also exploring the effects of animal-assisted therapy on the treatment of autism. Children and adults with this condition tend to bond strongly with animals and have shown improvement in social skills even after a short visit with a pet therapy animal. Dr. Carlisle, a physician with the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, says that animals offer an unconditional love and companionship, without judgement, which encourages (children especially) to open up and be themselves.
Risks of Pet Therapy
As with any type of therapy, there are risks involved.
- The first is the risk of transmission of bacteria – either from one patient to another, or carried by the animal from the environment. Therefore patients are generally required to wash their hands before and after contact with the animal.
- A patient may have an allergic reaction to the animal; generally this can be determined in a session with a physician who specializes in testing for allergies.
- Because of the risk of injury or aggressive behavior to the patient or the animal, both handlers and pet therapy animals are thoroughly screened and trained before certification.
- Lastly, according to Healthline, some patients have become possessive of the animal and may be reluctant to give them up at the end of the session. This can lead to depression and low self-esteem.
Is My Animal a Good Candidate for Pet Therapy?
Since pet therapy is a volunteer program, you must be willing to put in the necessary hours to be trained as a pet therapist and to make a commitment to your scheduled visits. Most pet therapy starts with a suitable pet. Typical animals used in pet therapy are dogs and cats.
However, small rodents, birds and horses have all been recruited to pet therapy programs.
To start in the pet therapy program, your animal must be fully vaccinated, and will be examined for good temperament, obedience, and overall health and cleanliness. Then you and your pet must pass a therapy training course to receive certification. You will be assigned to a center or facility based on their needs and your qualifications.
Pet Therapy – Take When Needed
There are so many therapeutic modalities on the market today, it’s enough to make your head spin (physically and emotionally). However, you can never overdose on too much furry love: that can only be found in the loving paws of a pet therapy animal! To find out if you or a loved one might benefit from pet therapy, check with your doctor, veterinarian, or local animal shelter to see what programs are available in your area. Don’t waste another day feeling alone or anxious when there’s a furry pal just waiting to brighten your day.