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Pet Therapy: Does Owning A Pet Extend One's Life?

Updated on March 2, 2012

Pet Dog

Jager the Great Dane at 12 Weeks Old
Jager the Great Dane at 12 Weeks Old

What is Pet Therapy?

Pet Therapy or Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) is a complimentary health alternative (CAM) that uses trained animals as well as trained animal handles. This therapy is used to improve ones social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning.

Pets most commonly used in therapy include; dogs, cats, horses, birds, rabbits, and other small animals. It has also found to be beneficial to one's health to watch a tank full of fish.

History of Pet Therapy

So, where exactly did this type of complimentary alternative therapy (CAM) come from? Animals have been used as companions as far back as prehistoric times. The Aztecs had even believed that dog's had been put on Earth by the God Xolotl as spiritual guides in life.

In Gheel, Belgium therapeutic use of animals dates as far back as the ninth century. Today this town in Belgium still uses farm animals as a form of therapy by encouraging people with disabilities to care for them.

It was most common for therapy pets to be used with psychiatric patients. However, today they are now used in schools, prisons, hospitals, personal care homes/nursing homes, hospices, and out patient care.

Pet Kitten

Benefits of Pet Therapy

Pet Therapy has many health benefits and very few negative outcomes.

  • Victims of heart attack are said to live longer lives
  • Lower high blood pressure
  • Petting an animal can increase the bodies production of endorphins (suppressing pain)
  • Developing fine motor skills
  • Develop cognitive skills
  • Improve communication
  • Reduces stress induced symptoms
  • Patients may feel safer
  • Patients may feel unconditionally loved
  • Adding years to life
  • Requiring less medical care
  • Lifts one's mood
  • Diminishes emotional pain
  • Reduces boredom
  • Reduces anxiety

The Negatives

  • Possible allergies
  • Pet hair
  • If the pet is owned by the patient it is a long term commitment
  • If the pet is owned they do require some level of care

Note: Some of these disadvantages of Pet Therapy can be eliminated if the pet is not owned by the patient. Pet handlers can be brought in to allow patients some time with the pets without the responsibility of actually owning a pet.


Why Does Pet Therapy Work?

Pets are not judgemental like some humans can be and they do not expect much in return. They give people something to love and care for that will love them back unconditionally. There is also no pressure on the patient to speak to the animal. The animal will be happy whether they don't say anything, or never stop talking.

Animal Characteristics

Not all animals are suited for pet therapy. It takes a very special animal that possesses special characteristics.

Characteristics of A Therapy Animal

  • Most common animals used are dogs as they are fairly easy to train and eager to please.
  • Those animals who enjoy meeting new people.
  • Not commonly a high energy breed.
  • Animals that can handle a change in routine.
  • Polite.
  • Responds to simple commands (if the animal is a dog).
  • Patient.
  • Calm around people and other animals.
  • Enjoy being petted.
  • Must be up to date on vaccinations.
  • Not agressive in any way.
  • Predictable.
  • Controllable.
  • Reliable.

It takes a very special animal to be a therapy animal. But that one animal can make a big difference in someone's life. Even increasing their life span.


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    • blairtracy profile image

      blairtracy 5 years ago from Canada

      Thanks for your comments! A few of the nursing homes I have been have cats. Its amazing how many people in one day is curious about the cats where abouts. And how happy they are to see them when the cat comes over to them for a visit. I have also witnessed some dog visitors come into the hospital. So many people light up when they see a furry friend enter the building!

    • Rickrideshorses profile image

      Rickrideshorses 5 years ago from England

      Owning a pet can definitely make people happier. I know people who are really joyous around dogs. For people who live alone they it can be good company, too. Interesting hub.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      What a terrific hub! I have a good friend who just got one of her dogs approved for pet therapy in hospitals and nursing homes. They are also very involved in supporting a charity that works with horses and the disabled. Voting this up, useful, interesting and will share with my followers and tweet + FB.