Being around animals, watching the antics of your silly cat or playing a game of fetch with your dog have some amazingly positive benefits on your health. They make you smile, laugh and make even the gloomiest days a little brighter. The concept of Pet Therapy is built on these positive effects that animals have on humans. So let’s dive a little deeper into Pet Therapy.
What is Pet Therapy?
Pet Therapy is the kind of therapy where pets assist people to heal from physical or mental health problems. It is an interaction between the pet, the patient and the handler. (Sometimes this handler is the pet parent.) The foundation of Pet Therapy is built on the human-animal bond. By forming a bond with an animal, many people come to a state of calm and relaxation. Pet therapy aims to use this human-animal bond to help heal people.
The most common therapy pets are dogs and cats but animals like rabbits, horses, fish, guinea pigs and any other animals who meet the requirements to be a therapy pet can be helpful for this process.
Therapy Pets usually visit hospitals, schools, rehab centers, hospice centers, retirement homes or places where they can help heal patients. These pets have a good temperament, are loving and are people-friendly.
What are the different types of Pet Therapy?
The exact type of Pet Therapy depends on the person’s condition, the kind of pet and the kind of therapy the pet can provide.
This is the most common type of pet therapy. Many times pet parents who have been in health care facilities for a long time miss their pets back at home. In this kind of therapy, other pet parents bring their own pets to visit hospitals to fill this void.
Animal Assisted Therapy
This is more of a guided therapy. Animal Assisted Therapy or AAT is where the animals have been trained to assist physical and occupational therapists. They help the patients to improve their motor skills and limb mobility. For example - a game of fetch or the act of petting or stroking a pet’s coat could do wonders for the patient’s physical and mental health. AAT has structured sessions with the aim to reach certain goals with the patient.
These therapy pets reside at the care facility and are trained to look after the patients therein. They assist patients with Alzheimer’s disease or other mental illnesses. These pets learn the limitations for the patients in the facility and help to keep them safe.
Who can benefit from Pet Therapy?
Pet Therapy can help with a range of mental and physical health problems in people.
The following is not an exhaustive list but here are some people who might benefit from therapy pets:
- Patients undergoing chemotherapy
- Patients in long term care facilities
- Children undergoing dental or physical procedures
- People with mental health disorders
- Stroke victims undergoing therapy to regain motor skills
- Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder
- Patients hospitalized with chronic heart failure
- Children with autism or ADHD
Pet therapy provides general benefits for both physical and psychological health. This therapy may benefit people of all age groups with various conditions. Pet therapy has shown significant improvement with people having conditions like depression, anxiety and PTSD. It also helps people to stay motivated and exercise.
What are the benefits of Pet Therapy?
The foundations of Pet Therapy are based on the pet and human relationship. Interacting with a dog, cat or a friendly pet can help reduce blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health. The act of stroking a dog or talking to a pet can release endorphins that produce a calming effect. This helps to alleviate pain, reduce stress and improve overall psychological health.
Animal Assisted Therapy can help in various ways. Certain goals are defined before you begin your therapy with pets and your progress is tracked according to these goals set. These goals can be:
- Improving self-esteem
- Developing social skills
- Improving motor skills and joint movement
- Improving independent or assisted movement
- Improving interactions with others
- Motivating the will to exercise
Some other benefits may include:
- Reducing depression and giving a new perspective to life
- Decreasing loneliness by giving you a companion
- Reducing anxiety because of its calming effects
- Inculcating nurturing and empathetic skills in children
- Reducing boredom
Animals like dogs and horses are known to help improve movement and get the patient motivated to exercise more.
How does Pet Therapy work?
The treatment for every kind of ailment is different. Hence, the type and the goals of this therapy change depending on the kind of aid a patient needs.
The process of Animal Assisted Therapy involves the pet’s handler (who is often the pet parent) bringing the pet to each session of therapy. The handler works under a doctor’s guidance to achieve the goals set.
Several organizations train handlers and their pets to work as therapy pets. Some pet parents and pets even work as volunteers at health care facilities. Before getting the approval to work as therapy pets, both the handler and the pet need to get various certifications from these organizations.
The handler must undergo training for interacting with people and perform the different types of therapies.
The pet has to be checked on various parameters. These may include-checking immunization records and conducting physical tests to ensure that the pet is in good health and free of disease. They also undergo temperament testing to ensure they work well with people and their handlers.
The handler and pet also go through obedience training together.
Once the training is complete, the team of pet handler and pet is assigned to a patient. The pet’s type, size, breed, behavior and age determine where the pet will be most helpful.
The rigorous trainings and certifications ensure that professionalism and efficiency are maintained while providing Pet Therapy.
Risks associated with Pet Therapy
While this therapy has many benefits, it may not be suitable for everyone. Following are the risks associated with Pet Therapy:
- For people with allergies to pet’s skin, coat and fur, Pet Therapy may do more harm than good.
- Some people are afraid and uncomfortable around animals. For these people, Pet Therapy may cause more stress than usual.
- In some cases, the patient may get too attached to the pet quickly and this may cause negative feelings to arise once the sessions end.
- Since therapy pets visit multiple health care facilities they are exposed to infectious diseases and sometimes may carry it with them. Hence, making it important to vaccinate and test pets thoroughly to avoid the spread.
Difference between Therapy Dogs, Service Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs
The dog and human relationship is unique and hence dogs are one of the most helpful animals when it comes to therapy. Dogs provide unmatched companionship and unconditional love. That makes dogs one of the best therapy animals.
Oftentimes, the terms Services Dogs, Therapy Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs are used interchangeably when in actuality they perform different functions.
The main point of distinction between the three is:
A Service Dog is trained to perform activities or work with people with disabilities. Their responsibility is to help their patient to move safely and attain independence. For example - guide dogs help to maneuver patients with visual impairment to carry on with their daily activities. Most Service Dogs have a ‘no petting’ restriction as petting them can stop them from working efficiently.
A Therapy Dog is trained to provide comfort, affection and love to people in health care facilities like hospitals, retirement homes, rehab centers and hospice centers. These dogs are usually very friendly, have a calm temperament and are easygoing with all the people around.
An Emotional Support Dog does not need any certifications or training. This dog is the pet of the pet parent and provides companionship and support to their parent.
A final outlook
Pet Therapy can assist both children and adults with a variety of conditions that are both physical and psychological. It is a great form of alternative and complementary therapy that has shown tremendous results for patients all around the world.
People who might not benefit from Pet Therapy can choose alternative methods as Pet Therapy is only a complementary method and not a replacement to any kind of therapy.
It is important to set realistic goals before beginning therapy with an animal. Regular and structured sessions can help show improvement according to the goals set.
The various ways our pets help us, prolong our life and make us happy is astonishing and amazing. There is truly so much love our pets have to give to us.
That being said, we hope you and your pet are happy and safe. If you and your pet need anything, Team Wiggles is always here for you. Reach us on- +91 8431620000.
*Disclaimer: This blog is vet-approved and includes original content which is compiled after thorough research and authenticity by our in-house team of vets and content experts. It is always advisable to consult a vet before you try any products, pet food or any kind of treatment/medicines on your pets, as each pet is unique and will respond differently.