What is Pet Therapy?
Pet therapy is a broad term that includes animal-assisted therapy and other animal-assisted activities. Animal-assisted therapy is a growing field that uses dogs or other animals to help people recover from or better cope with health problems, such as heart disease, cancer and mental health disorders.
Animal-assisted activities, on the other hand, have a more general purpose, such as providing comfort and enjoyment for nursing home residents.
How does Animal-Assisted Therapy work?
Imagine you're in the hospital. Your doctor mentions the hospital's animal-assisted therapy program and asks if you'd be interested. You say yes, and your doctor arranges for someone to tell you more about the program. Soon after that, an assistance dog and its handler visit your hospital room. They stay for 10 or 15 minutes. You're invited to pet the dog and ask the handler questions.
After the visit, you realize you're smiling. And you feel a little less tired and a bit more optimistic. You can't wait to tell your family all about that charming canine. In fact, you're already looking forward to the dog's next visit.
Who can benefit from Animal-Assisted Therapy?
Animal-assisted therapy can significantly reduce pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue in people with a range of health problems:
And it's not only people with health problems who reap the benefits. Family members and friends who sit in on animal visits say they feel better, too.
Pet therapy is also being used in non-medical settings, such as universities, community programs, and pet-friendly health and wellness clinics to help people deal with anxiety and stress.
What are the risks of Pet Therapy?
The biggest concern, particularly in hospitals, is safety and sanitation. Most hospitals and other facilities that use pet therapy have stringent rules to ensure that the animals are clean, vaccinated, well-trained and screened for appropriate behavior.
Animal-Assisted Therapy in action.
There are over 50,000 certified therapy dogs in the United States. These dogs and their handlers make regular visits to various hospital departments and nursing homes and even make special visits on request. Libraries have started utilizing therapy dogs during story time to help children work on reading comprehension skills. Therapy dogs are a welcome distraction and help reduce stress and anxiety in our everyday lives.