What is pet therapy? 10 benefits

Western medicine has evolved considerably over the past decade. Doctors are prescribing fewer pharmaceuticals and exploring alternative medical practices. Professionals are recommending pet therapy to more patients as a primary treatment method.

A unique therapeutic practice influencing the medical field today involves animals. Rehabilitation centers, physical recovery specialists and mental health professionals use animals to improve the physical and emotional well-being of patients. Here are 10 significant benefits of using animals in therapy.

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What is pet therapy?

Before evaluating the benefits of pet therapy, people should identify the main characteristics of the practice. Pet therapy involves creatures like dogs, cats, horses, etc. Animals provide physical and emotional support to people battling cancer, heart disease, depression and other conditions.

Patients drive, feed, care for and ride horses in equine assisted therapy sessions. Dog-assisted therapy is more accessible and widely used in hospitals. When therapists and patients work with dogs, they are engaging in affection and physical care.

Most patients receiving animal-assisted therapy report feelings of comfort and optimism. Some people may disengage from hospital settings when dogs are present. Dogs, horses, rabbits, cats, and even guinea pigs provide various physical and mental benefits to people.

1. Decreased anxiety and stress

Mental health professionals often use animal-assisted therapy to treat anxious patients. The researchers identified the benefits of pet therapy in 230 anxious people. They took therapy readings before and after treatment and found lower levels of anxiety in patients who participated in pet-assisted therapy.

2. Improved empathy and affection

Another benefit of pet therapy is increased empathy and affection. Professionals use companion animals in the treatment of dementia. When dementia patients interact with therapy dogs, they express less agitation and more compassion toward others.

3. Less perception of pain

The third benefit of animal-assisted therapy is a decrease in pain perception. Researchers conducted a study to record the effects of dogs on pain patients in a clinic. They assessed the impacts of pet therapy on individuals over a two-month period.

Practitioners saw a 23% decrease in pain throughout the study. Pain clinics may place pets in waiting, assessment and therapy rooms to improve the emotional and physical well-being of patients.

4. Heightened sense of social support

Therapeutic pets are particularly useful in the treatment of social disorders. People with autism and social anxiety receive unconditional support from therapy animals. Animals also promote conversation between patients and their therapists, bridging social gaps.

5. Reduced Fear

The fifth benefit of pet therapy is fear reduction. Cancer patients often develop severe phobias of death. Equine therapy helps patients stay present and focus on life outside of themselves.

Horses may display a more mindful lifestyle. They care little about the future and about death. Cancer patients may adopt a similar mindset after caring for and connecting with them.

6. Weight loss

Physiotherapists also use animal intervention to help patients lose weight. Riding therapy horses can improve cardiovascular health and improve fitness levels. Patients can burn nearly 600 calories on each ride, reducing their risk of heart disease by an average of 35%.

7. Reduction of blood pressure

Another physical benefit of pet therapy is the reduction in blood pressure. Researchers have found that dogs can lower blood pressure more effectively than an angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor. Some high blood pressure medications have unwanted side effects, so limiting intake with pet therapy can improve overall well-being.

8. Increase in “feel-good” hormones

Participating in horse rides or pack rides can help people recover from physical injuries. The therapy method also improves mental health by releasing endorphins. The hormonal response reduces individuals’ perception of pain and increases positive feelings.

9. Reduced feelings of loneliness

The ninth benefit of pet therapy is to reduce feelings of loneliness. Autistic patients can connect more effectively with animals than with humans. Pets provide non-judgmental support for people with isolating tendencies.

10. Improved language skills

The final benefit of animal-assisted therapy involves improvements in speech. Speech therapists recognize an increase in communication during sessions where dogs are present. Patients with communication barriers, such as autism or speech impediments, are more motivated to learn during pet therapy sessions.

Experienced therapists can also assess nonverbal communication between patients and pets. They can use this information to effectively treat their patients.

After evaluating the main benefits of pet therapy, people may feel compelled to attend a session.

How to get involved in pet therapy?

There are several animal therapy centers around the world, helping patients with different diagnoses. Before people seek animal-assisted therapy in their area, they must determine their mental and physical conditions. If you feel withdrawn, fearful, disinterested, experience physical pain or discomfort, you should contact a medical professional.

After receiving a mental and physical assessment, you can determine your suitability to participate in pet therapy. When looking for a pet therapy professional, you need to assess their credentials. Patients can confidently rely on the treatment process of licensed therapists.

Is pet therapy for you?

Pet therapy is not for everyone. And not all of its forms are equally applicable. If you have physical limitations, you might benefit more from canine therapy than equine therapy, for example. Once you find the best method of therapy for your condition, you can enjoy a multitude of physical and emotional benefits.

By Jane Marsh. Articles in English

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