What Is Pet Therapy?

You may have heard this term before but weren’t sure what it meant. Pet therapy is a relatively new type of program that uses various types of animals to assist human beings with rehabilitation, mental disorders and comfort. Keep reading to find out more about pet therapy.

Pet therapy is also referred to as “assisted animal therapy.” It is the notion that animals have healing properties just by their very existence and proximity to humans. It is not magic, but a bond between lifeforms that has many benefits.


Therapy Animals versus Service Animals

Using animals for therapeutic reasons should not be confused with having a service animal. Service animals are trained by professionals to be of assistance to those with physical or mental disabilities. The animals perform certain tasks for them or act as alarms when dangerous conditions arise. They are the property of a single owner at a time and only the owner touches the animal.

On the other hand, therapy animals are usually pets to private owners who volunteer or contract out their services to facilities that could use their help. These animals don’t perform tasks but provide comfort, relief, contentment and social interaction for a variety of patients with specific needs. Therapy animals work with individuals or groups. In order to be effective, measurable goals and a plan are constructed by the therapist along with the animal and its owner.

What Types of Pets Are Used as Therapy Animals?

The most common therapy pets are dogs and cats. Equine therapy (use of horses) is also enjoying a healthy presence in this new field. These are not the only ones, however. The main requirement is that the pet be gentle when handled by one or several people. Other pets used include birds, guinea pigs, goldfish, even chickens and reptiles. As long as the patient is not afraid or the pet and receptive to it, that animal could become a therapy pet.

Benefits of Pet Therapy

Whatever the pet type, use of an animal in the therapy process has some interesting benefits:

* Improved focus and balance (depending on the animal and the activity)
* Physical interaction and contact
* Lowered blood pressure
* Increased mental stimulation
* Empathy (pets often mirror the behaviors of their owners)
* Increased self-esteem
* Improved problem-solving skills
* Greater trust and teamwork in therapy

This is just an abbreviated list but you can see where we’re going with this.

Who Can They Help?

People from all walks of life can benefit from pet therapy. These pets are most commonly seen in nursing facilities where they serve as a constant for people suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. In hospitals, they aid cancer patients, heart patients, and those suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Individuals with autism spectrum disorders as well as developmental disorders may also benefit from the presence of such an animal.

If you know someone for whom traditional therapy alone is not working, consider adding a loving pet to the equation.

Note:  This post is not meant to diagnose or treat any problem.  Always consult with your health professional before applying any information here.