Pet TherapyPet therapy, also known as animal assisted therapy, employs the use of animals in the treatment of any disease or illness. Pet therapy can range from watching fish swim in an aquarium to petting a dog to caring for livestock. The benefits of working with animals is well documented and many hospital rehabilitation centers and nursing homes have established programs that allow trained service animals into the facility as part of the therapy process.
The History of Pet TherapyThere are documented cases of using pets for therapy beginning in the 9th century. During this time, a farm in Gheel, Belgium established the use of farm animals to teach people with disabilities how to care for the animals. In the 1790s, a farm for the mentally ill in England used caring for animals as part of treatment for people afflicted by mental illness.
In the United States
, soldiers that were injured during World War II were advised to care for farm animals to help in their recovery. While pet therapy was first used as an aid to treat patients suffering from psychiatric illnesses, it was not long before the benefits of pet therapy for physical diseases was recognized.
The Benefits of Pet TherapyThere are a variety of benefits to pet therapy. Studies of patients with hypertension have shown a reduction in blood pressure by simply watching fish swim in an aquarium. Studies of heart attack patients show patients that own dogs are more likely to survive one year after their heart attack than patients who do not have dogs. It has also been shown that elderly people with pets are more alert and active.
In addition to general health benefits, animals can play an active role in the recovery of patients. Stroke victims, who often show a pronounced weakness on one side of the body, can be encouraged to develop that side by stroking or petting a dog or cat. Even speech that has been affected by a stroke can be improved, as the patient, who may be self-conscious of their speech problems around other people, can relax and talk to a pet without concern.
What Type of Pet Can Be Used for Pet Therapy?All types of animals are used for pet therapy. Horses are used in a process called hippotherapy. Patients with disabilities that are taught to ride in hippotherapy sessions show an improvement in muscle tone, coordination, and even speech. Dogs and cats are also commonly used, and many nursing homes have aquariums in common rooms.
Pets used for therapy must be calm and attentive, and willing to listen to their handler. Because many of the patients a pet will be exposed to may be connected to bulky equipment, may sit in a wheel chair or walker, or behave erratically, it is important for the pet to be calm and well-behaved. A dog that barks or growls, or a horse that becomes scared easily is not a suitable candidate for pet therapy.
Who Should Use Pet Therapy?Pet therapy has been proven through scientific studies to benefit the patient. Lower medication costs, longer life
, increased alertness, and an improved mood are just some of the health benefits of pet therapy. While pet therapy should not be considered a replacement for conventional medicine, it is a wonderfully effective compliment to traditional methods
. Whether the condition is chronic or acute, the advantages of pet therapy have been undoubtedly proven. Children who are allowed to pet a dog while undergoing a painful medical procedure require less pain medication, and the elderly have higher levels of social interaction when they have a pet. As pet therapy becomes more widespread, an increasing number of hospitals have begun to implement pet therapy programs.