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The Benefits of Pet Therapy

By HERWriter
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Pets related image Photo: Getty Images

For centuries man has had a mystical bond with animals. Scientists are still trying to figure out how this happens and explain how contact with animals affects a person’s physiology. But in recent years, regardless of the lack of empirical evidence to the benefits, nurses, psychologists, teachers and other professionals who deal with people with mental and physical illnesses have started to bring animal interaction into their facilities and treatment plans.

Pet therapy goes beyond seeing-eye dogs for the blind or companion dogs for the hearing impaired. The observed psychological impact of animals on people’s moods has produced other therapy purposes.

What is Animal Assisted Therapy?

Bringing animals directly into a therapeutic role is called Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) or Animal Assisted Activities (AAA). Sometimes the interaction involves simply bringing an animal into a hospital, care home or school to allow the children or residents to interact with the animal. Animal assisted therapy, by comparison, an animal is incorporated into a structured treatment plan.

The most common pets used are dogs and cats, but fish, rabbits, guinea pigs, horses and other farm animals are also used. Some programs take the animals directly to the patients; others take those with behavioral issues out of their normal surroundings and introduces them to a farm setting.

Dogs and cats in particular, however, go through a screening process to ensure that the animal has the right temperament and obedience training before being introduced into a therapeutic environment.

The Effect of Animals

While science still works to explain how animals affect a person’s emotions and health, psychologists have learned the following:

1) Animals foster and teach empathy. People are able to relate to animals because an animal’s world and perspective of the world is really simple. Their moods are easier to read than humans.

2) Animals draw those with mental illness or low self-esteem issues out of themselves by encouraging them to focus on someone or something other than themselves.

3) Animals bring out a nurturing instinct.

Add a Comment4 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

Bringing animals directly into a therapeutic role is called Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) or Animal Assisted Activities

July 10, 2012 - 4:13am
EmpowHER Guest

My girlfriend has been around animals all her life. I could write a book on the stresses she's been put through over the past 20 years. Based on her cardiac and other health problems, I'm sure her furry "little people" (as she calls them) are why she survives today.

I take propranolol for anxiety. It's also a blood pressure med. I think it could come with a warning label about picking up an adorable pet too soon after taking: the combined effect can lower your BP too much. No joke.

July 21, 2011 - 9:49am
EmpowHER Guest

I thinks Many groups support the health benefits of pet ownership. We learn more about the health benefits of pets and how to keep our pets healthy ..

June 14, 2011 - 2:46am
HERWriter (reply to Anonymous)

Thank you for sharing your link.

June 14, 2011 - 10:41am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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