If you have a pet or are just an overall lover of animals, you have likely heard a bit about the option of pet therapy for a variety of situations, whether it be rehabilitation, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, long term care or even hospice. Those of us who can relate to having a pet or even just being really close to someone who has a pet we are familiar with know how much more relaxed and secure we feel in the presence of our pets. There is something so unique about their ability to tap into the human experience and show more empathy than a good amount of people do on a regular basis. I know that for me, anytime I was sick while I was growing up and stayed home from school camped out on my couch, it was almost like my dog had the emotional intelligence to realize I wasn’t feeling well and he would come lay with me until I was better.
The feeling we get from those interactions is the basis of why pet therapy is so effective and why it is used frequently in health care settings. Even my brother got a visit from an adorable Golden Retriever while he was in the hospital after undergoing surgery and despite the discomfort from the procedure and the typically negative feelings associated with a hospital stay, his face lit up when the dog stopped by to see him.
It is actually proven that interacting with these pets, assuming they are friendly and you are receptive to them, can reduce blood pressure, thus improving cardiovascular health. Petting the animals and spending time with them also releases endorphins, improving mood and reducing depression and anxiety, while also helping to reduce physical pain for some patients.
The socialization aspect of pet therapy is also hugely important because spending a lot of time in a health care facility does have the potential to make patients feel isolated or bored. These animals provide much-needed interaction and comfort while encouraging the patients to communicate, whether verbally or non-verbally. For a person who is recovering from an injury or is living with a health condition, the animals also provide a sense of motivation to work a little harder and improve motor capabilities for actions like walking with the dog or petting/playing with them.
And for those of you out there who are worried about behavioral or sanitation issues on the part of the pet, just know that the animals used for pet therapy are trained extensively, not to mention that most dogs tend to pick up on environmental clues and know when they need to be on their best behavior or a little more gentle. The dogs are also vaccinated and need to meet certain criteria for cleanliness and health in order to interact with patients.
As it turns out, these pets really earn their title as man’s best friend and the way they can contribute to improving quality of life is invaluable.