What Is Pet Therapy?
Pet therapy is a guided
interaction between an individual and a trained animal. It also involves the
animal’s handler. The purpose of pet therapy is to help a patient recover from or
cope with a health problem or a mental disorder. Pet therapy also is called
animal-assisted therapy (AAT).
Dogs and cats are the
animals most commonly used in pet therapy. However, fish, guinea pigs, horses,
and other animals that meet screening criteria can be used. The type of animal chosen
depends on the therapeutic goals of a patient’s treatment plan.
Pet therapy, or AAT, is
sometimes confused with animal-assisted activities (AAA). Pet therapy is a
formal, structured set of encounters. These meetings are planned to help patients
reach specific goals in their treatment or progress.
AAA involves more casual
meetings. In AAA, an animal and its handler interact with one or more people for
comfort or recreation.
What Does Pet Therapy Do?
therapy builds on the pre-existing human-animal bond. Thanks to this natural relationship,
pet therapy can aid progress toward goals in human physical, social, emotional,
and cognitive function (American Veterinary Medical Association, 2013).
objectives are an important part of pet therapy. Progress at pet therapy
encounters is recorded and tracked.
therapy can be used in many different ways. Goals of a pet therapy program can
fine motor skills
assisted or independent movement
anxiety or loneliness
willingness to join in activities
interactions with others
willingness to exercise
Who Benefits from Pet Therapy?
therapy can be useful for:
- residents in
long-term care facilities
hospitalized with chronic heart failure
- veterans with
post-traumatic stress disorder
- children having
physical or dental procedures
- stroke victims and
physical therapy patients regaining motor skills
- mental health
What Are the Side Effects of Pet Therapy?
who are allergic to animal dander may have reactions during pet therapy.
How Is Pet Therapy Administered?
healthcare provider managing the patient’s treatment administers pet therapy. A
trained handler, often the pet’s owner, takes the animal to every meeting. The animal
and handler work under the provider’s direction to help the patient reach
pre-determined goals. In most cases, handlers work as volunteers.
What Are the Steps of Pet Therapy?
first step in pet therapy is the selection of a suitable animal. Many animal groups
train and connect volunteer owners and pets with health care providers.
an animal and its handler can participate in pet therapy, the team usually has
to fulfill certain requirements. This process typically includes:
- a physical
examination of the animal to confirm that it is immunized and free of diseases
- an obedience
training course to ensure proper animal control
- an instructional
course to teach the trainer about patient interaction
- an evaluation of
the animal’s temperament and behavior with the handler
- a certification from
the sponsoring organization
an animal-and-handler team is approved, animals are assigned for therapy based
on patients’ needs. The animal’s type, breed, size, age, and natural behavior determine
where it will be most helpful.
What Are the Benefits of Pet Therapy?
therapy can help people gain improved emotional and physical health. It can be
an effective treatment for reducing pain, anxiety, depression, and fatigue (Mayo Clinic, 2012).
of the benefits of pet therapy are:
- improved outward
empathic and nurturing skills among children
- improved rapport
between a patient and health care provider
- increase in
mental stimulation as patients communicate about the animal
opportunities for physical contact
physiological state, including decreases in heart rate and blood pressure
What are the Risks of Pet Therapy?
of the biggest risks of pet therapy involve safety and sanitation. Animals in
pet therapy programs are typically screened for behavior and health. The
animals’ owners and handlers must also undergo training and evaluation to help ensure
a positive experience.
uncommon, human injury can occur when unsuitable animals are used. In addition,
animals may suffer injury or abuse when handled inappropriately.
some cases, patients may become possessive of the animals helping them. This
can result in problems with low self-esteem when unrealistic expectations
aren’t met. When an animal dies during pet therapy, patients may feel intense
grief or even guilt.
How Does a Patient Prepare for Pet Therapy?
of proper pet handling is needed to ensure patient safety. The healthcare
provider should establish realistic goals and expectations.
What Is the Outlook After Pet Therapy?
use and success of pet therapy is unique to each individual. Patients may have
less anxiety during procedures when a pet is present. In rehabilitation,
patients may be more motivated to practice their skills when working with a
suffering from sensory disabilities can communicate easily with a pet. This may
encourage further human interaction with healthcare providers.
What Are the Results of Pet Therapy?
in pet therapy may experience reduced cardiovascular reactions to stress. This
is attributed to a process called “contact comfort.” In this process, the
unconditional human-animal bond that forms through touch is thought to induce
relaxation (Halm, 2008).
Evidence of the physiological effects of pet therapy was
found in a study of adult patients hospitalized with heart failure. Researchers
credited pet therapy with improving levels of cardiopulmonary function,
neurohormone levels, and anxiety (Cole, et al., 2007).
the health care setting, animals can facilitate communication. Their presence
encourages interactions among patients, healthcare providers, staff, and
visitors (AVMA, 2013).
therapy can have positive results for patients as well as others. Family
members who watch pet therapy sessions report feeling better after animal
visits (Mayo Clinic, 2012).