As many pet lovers will tell you, interaction with animals can enrich life in a variety of ways. A pet’s gift of unconditional love and the therapeutic value of touch offer both physical and mental rewards. So what is pet therapy, and how does it work?
Pet therapy, also called animal-assisted therapy, takes a few different forms. For some, it means having a dog or cat near them throughout the day. Others visit farms or stables to ride or care for horses and other livestock. For those in settings such as assisted living at the Terraces of Boise, home aquariums are colorful and convenient ways to connect with animals. Residents might even enjoy “house calls” from a therapist with trained pets like cuddly puppies or guinea pigs (yes, guinea pigs can be trained!)
Stressful situations, such as illness or cognitive decline, can consume anyone’s attention. People suffering from adverse physical or mental circumstances may find themselves fixated on their difficulties. Caring for pets and sharing experiences with animals can shift that focus outward. Forging a bond with a therapy animal also unlocks someone who might have trust issues, keeping human emotions on a more even keel.
No matter how resilient we may be, it’s inevitable that people get down sometimes. Pet therapy makes these inevitable lows more manageable. The calming effect of observing or petting an animal reduces anxiety, eases boredom, and washes away feelings of loneliness. Contact with another species can serve as a healthy distraction from everyday problems and provide new perspectives, improving a person’s outlook on life.
Those living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease often benefit the most from animal-assisted therapy. Time spent with animals diminishes agitation, aggression, and other behavioral challenges that accompany these degenerative diseases. And the dividends pay off beyond the patient. Friends and family who visit are apt to feel better after some time with a furry friend.
While a session with a therapy pet may seem like a purely emotional experience, the interactions have tangible physical impacts. The pleasurable feeling that pet-therapy participants experience isn’t just a reaction to a cute puppy or pony, but a physical response to the release of endorphins. Much like some prescription drugs, natural endorphins target the brain’s opiate receptors to reduce pain sensation. Animal-assisted therapy has been shown to lower blood pressure, aiding the treatment of cardiovascular disease. Exercising with a therapy pet, such as riding or driving a horse, can even help to improve motor skills.
As a stand-alone treatment or partnered with a larger therapeutic plan, pet therapy is a heartwarming option for those with physical, emotional, and cognitive challenges. Welcoming a pet into your life lets you reap all of these benefits—plus nothing compares to the love you’ll get in return.