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Pets as Therapy

 by simone on 15 Jul 2014 |
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If you have a pet then you will know how much fun, love, affection and joy they bring, and it is likely that you are healthier and happier than those without pets in their lives. In other words, pets can be therapeutic.

Animals are becoming increasingly recognised as method of therapy for adults and children recovering from illnesses and injuries, or for those with physical, mental, emotional conditions or disabilities. Pets as therapy is also known as animals as therapy and as animal assisted or animal facilitated therapy. These animals are not service animals, such as seeing-eye dogs, who are trained specifically to perform tasks for their handlers.

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Where are therapy animals used?
Pets as therapy is not a recent idea. Florence Nightingale recommended animals be used for healing and Sigmund Freud often had dogs present when consulting to help relax and comfort his patients.

When providing therapy, a
ppropriately trained animals with a calm and gentle temperament are taken to hospitals, hospices, nursing and aged-care homes, health and mental care facilities, prisons and schools; or sometimes people are taken to them. Most commonly dogs are chosen as therapy animals, but cats, birds, rabbits, farm animals, horses and dolphins are also used. 

The goal is to improve a patient’s wellbeing, quality of life and social interaction. There is no doubting the success of animals in this regard. However, more empirical research is needed to measure the effects of animals on long-term medical and learning improvements and the cognitive function of patients.

Research has shown that animal therapy has benefitted children with autism, Down syndrome, attention deficit disorders or learning difficulties as well as people who are recovering from stroke, those with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and with depression or anxiety.

Particularly in relation to Alzheimer’s disease, autism and learning disorders where frustrations and stress hamper behaviour and mood, animals help calm patients and reduce aggression.

Sigmund Freud and Jofi
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How do animals help?

Animals are affectionate, playful and loving. They provide unconditional friendship and a positive experience for patients, which is particularly important for children. Animals assist in other ways when part of a therapy program:

  • Create bonds and companionship
  • Nonverbal communication allows people with autism or other learning difficulties to interact and this often improves their communication and social interaction skills with other people
  • Encourage expression, communication and language
  • Reduce stress and anxiety, leading to calm and relaxed situations and better health and learning outcomes
  • Give social and emotional support 
  • Enhance mood and quality of life
  • Regular contact can improve and maintain movement and cognitive function, especially when patients are asked to exercise, care and groom animals
  • Assist with overcoming depression
  • Encourage activity, exercise and play
  • Provide social and mental stimulation
  • Can raise self-esteem amongst those with disabilities 
  • Distract patients from their illness or condition
  • Reduces feelings of isolation 



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