Pet therapy
Animal companionship has been used as an informal source of comfort and relief of suffering across cultures throughout history. For over 40 yea...

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Synonyms

AAA, AAT, animal-assisted activities, animal-assisted therapy, animals in human therapy, canine visitation therapy, companion animal therapy, CVT, pet-assisted therapy, pet-facilitated therapy.

Background

Animal companionship has been used as an informal source of comfort and relief of suffering across cultures throughout history.

For over 40 years, pet therapy has been a subject of serious study for nursing and other healthcare disciplines concerned with emotional well-being and quality of life.

Pet therapy is used with people of all ages, but particularly with children and the elderly.

Pet therapy offers psychological benefits in terms of emotional connection, stress reduction, and reduced feelings of loneliness or isolation.

Pet therapy is used in clinical programs to treat social or emotional difficulties and communication disorders.

Animal companionship has been used as an informal source of comfort and relief of suffering across cultures throughout history.

For over 40 years, pet therapy has been a subject of serious study for nursing and other healthcare disciplines concerned with emotional well-being and quality of life.

Pet therapy is used with people of all ages, but particularly with children and the elderly.

Pet therapy offers psychological benefits in terms of emotional connection, stress reduction, and reduced feelings of loneliness or isolation.

Pet therapy is used in clinical programs to treat social or emotional difficulties and communication disorders.

Theory

Chronic stress is a major risk factor in many medical and mental health conditions. Animal companionship may aid in stress reduction and promote relaxation, thereby reducing risk or symptom levels in stress-related conditions.

Chronic feelings of isolation or alienation are also risk factors for medical and mental health conditions. Animal companionship may aid in reducing these feelings.

The tactile stimulation involved in animal companionship provides a pleasurable form of neurological stimulation that encourages relaxation and well-being.

The experience of being emotionally engaged in a relationship with a companion animal may foster growth in emotional maturity and self-awareness.

Children who are victims of trauma or have communication disorders may perceive animals as less threatening than people. As a result, pets may help such children become aware of their feelings and develop a clearer sense of self.

Companion animals encourage social interaction among the people around them, promoting a more interactive social environment.

Evidence

DISCLAIMER: These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.

Quality of life: Pet therapy may benefit both patients and caregiving staff in a hospice setting. In one study, the presence of a dog was found to encourage staff-patient interactions, ease patient-visitor relations, and improve staff and patient morale. The preferred interactions with the dog were those that had a relaxing or comforting effect on the human. Not all patients, however, may be interested in contact with an animal.
Grade: B

Alzheimer's dementia: In the institutionalized elderly, there is evidence that pet therapy may reduce depression and blood pressure, reduce irritability, reduce agitation and increase social interaction. In Alzheimer's disease there is evidence that the presence of a companion animal may increase social behaviors such as smiles, laughs, looks, leans, touches, verbalizations, name-calling, or others.
Grade: C

Hypertension: There is evidence from one well-designed trial that pet ownership may have additive value in patients with hypertension who are taking conventional blood pressure medication.
Grade: C

Invasive medical procedures: Evidence is unclear about the extent to which pet therapy may be of value in reducing anxiety and depression in invasive medical procedures. A study of institutionalized psychiatric patients being treated with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) had inconclusive results. More studies are needed to determine the value of pet therapy in preparing people for invasive or unpleasant procedures.
Grade: C

Loneliness in the elderly: Pet therapy has been shown to reduce loneliness and depression in residents of long-term care facilities, particularly in people with a prior history of pet ownership. The presence of a pet has also been found to lead to increased verbal interactions among residents.
Grade: C

Mental illness: There is evidence that the presence of a pet dog among psychiatric inpatients promotes social interactions. In people with schizophrenia, there is evidence that pet therapy may lead to improved interest in rewarding activities as well as better use of leisure time and improved motivation. There is also evidence of improvement in socialization skills, independent living, and general well-being. In a large, well-designed study, hospitalized patients with a variety of psychiatric disorders were found to have reduced anxiety after a single session of pet therapy. For most, the benefits were superior to those of a session of regular recreation therapy.
Grade: C

Nutrition (Alzheimer's patients): There is evidence from one well-designed study that animal-assisted therapy in the form of a fish aquarium in an institutional care facility for people with Alzheimer's disease may improve nutritional intake, improve weight gain, and reduce the need for nutritional supplementation.
Grade: C

Pain (pediatric): Based on preliminary study, canine visitation therapy (CVT) may be an effective adjunct to traditional pain management for children. More high-quality studies are needed to make any firm recommendations.
Grade: C

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