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Pet Therapy Effects

Updated on August 23, 2014

Dogs - Most Popular Companion Pet

Benefits Of Pet Therapy

Pet therapy is becoming recognized as an effective health aid for reducing stress, as well as offering other therapeutic benefits. Pet therapy affects both physical and emotional health.

Dogs are typically considered the animal most chosen for a companion pet. Alan M. Beck, Sc.D, director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond, School of Veterinary Medicine, PurdueUniversity in Indiana is quoted as saying, “the most remarkable benefits to health are for those who own dogs.” However, cats are also a popular choice. Even birds, fish and rabbits are sometimes used in pet therapy.

The benefits of pet therapy are effective for young people, as well as the elderly. For the elderly, one of the most noticeable results is reduction in blood pressure. Elderly persons who own companion pets are found to visit the doctor less than those without a pet. Reduction of stress and loneliness are results given in studies of interaction between the elderly and pets. Social support is another plus.

Horses Used For Disabled Children

Different Pets For Different Folks

For the young, pets are used in a variety of ways for therapeutic results. One of the ways most often mentioned is horseback riding for the physically handicapped.

Some facilities are set up especially to accommodate kids that have physical disabilities.

Riding helps the handicapped with posture and balance, as well as companionship. Having pets around to observe, care for, and interact with, can help the special education children learn how to be gentle and how to care for other living things. Some special education schools have smaller pets in the classroom for this purpose.

Pet therapy may not be for everyone. For those who fear animals, for whatever reason, pet therapy would not be a good choice. Scheduled visits with pets which are healthy and well cared for would be better for the person who is unable or who refuses to keep a pet vaccinated, wormed and treated for fleas and ticks. Health problems for the animal may be passed along to the owner.

Choice of pets is another problem in some cases. The pet has to fit the human companion’s needs and situation. A frail elderly person might be hurt by a rowdy puppy. Cats often get underfoot and might trip an old person. Birds may peck a little child. A tiny dog may not survive children who are too young to be careful, or a developmentally disabled child who plays rough.

Pets are also being used in rehabilitation for juvenile delinquents. Responsibility and trust are learned in these situations. The prison system also uses animals for therapeutic purposes.

Pets Encourage Exercise And Lighten Moods

The companionship provided by pets is one of the greatest benefits of pet ownership. They help with loneliness and are easy to be around. They listen to your troubles and give comfort by just being there. They don’t expect anything from you that you can’t give. A dog’s ability to sense his owner’s sadness or pain makes them especially effective when providing comfort for the elderly when a husband or wife dies.

Exercise is another benefit of having a pet. Especially with dogs, the owner is more likely to get outside and walk with the dog. Getting outdoors around other people is good for our health, both physical and mental. Having a pet along with you gives people an excuse to start a conversation, so along with the exercise comes social support.

Pets can lighten a person’s mood, which helps when someone is depressed or feeling grouchy. This can help persons with mental health issues and may take the edge off tensions in households where people are easily angered. Playful cats or dogs are especially helpful in lightening moods.

Fish, while not the typical pet you might think of as a companion pet, have also been studied for beneficial effects. Fish are found to be soothing. The results of one study showed Alzheimer’s disease patients had an increase in food intake when fish aquariums were provided.

Playful Cats Help Lighten Moods

Things To Consider

Many health care facilities allow pet therapy visits. Children’s hospitals and nursing homes both are receptive to pet therapy. Patients who would not speak have spoken after interaction with pets. Good results have been shown for autistic children who were having pet therapy. Stress levels are eased.

Companion pets are not the same as guide dogs for the blind or dogs who help with mobility. These are called service animals. Although they have a job to do, they still provide companionship for their owner. Service dogs have access to public buildings because of their job. Companion animals do not have the same rights to go into restaurants or other businesses where dogs are not normally allowed.

Beneficial effects of pet ownership aren’t limited to the ill or elderly. Dogs may give a sense of security to the owner whether they live alone and feel safer with the pet there, or feel more secure when walking down the street. Simply having a warm, cuddly animal nearby can provide a sense of trust and can give comfort. Feeling the soft fur of a pet can release positive chemicals in our bodies which make us feel good.

Before taking on ownership of a companion pet, many things should be considered. Allergies should be considered. Size of animal and extent of care needed for the pet. Will it have to be clipped? Is the breed too active for the owner to keep up with? Can the owner provide the animals needs financially? If pet ownership is considered, the local pound is a good place to start searching. The help of a veterinarian or professional dog trainer can be enlisted for breed selection and temperament. Cats are easier to care for than dogs in most cases. If you begin your search at the local pound you may be lucky enough to find a pet which has already had some training. Puppies or kittens may not always be the best choice. Sometimes an animal that is out of the baby stage is easier to manage. Everyone should consider their own situation and decide which animal will make the best companion for them.

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