Therapy Pet Benefits

Photo © Herby Meseritsch

A therapy pet is a pet – typically a dog – trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, hospices, disaster areas, and to people with learning or physical difficulties.  There are many benefits associated with animal contact. The benefits include an increase in a patient’s motivation, help with their emotional state, and help with physical therapy.

The main goal of a therapy pet is to increase the patient’s physical and emotional well being, reduce anxiety and stress, facilitate healing, improve self-confidence, and stimulate social interaction and conversation. Therapy pets are also used with children who have been through some sort of trauma. The pets can help them express their feelings and calm the child.

Therapy pets in institutions can live there permanently or they can visit with a therapist.  Pets that visit with a therapist typically do assisted activities, which is different from the assisted therapies. Animal assisted activities are casual “meet and greet” activities that involve pets visiting people. The activity can be repeated with many people or in groups.  Animal assisted therapies focus on an individual.

The Mayo clinic is a big believer in therapy pets and animal assisted activities.  They currently have 12 dogs on site to help patients as part of their Caring Canines program.  The therapy dogs are used to help children having dental procedures, people receiving cancer treatment, people in long-term care facilities, people hospitalized with chronic heart failure, and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.  The dogs make regular visits to several hospital departments and will make special visits on request.  One dog and his trainer worked with a 5-year old girl recovering from spinal surgery.  Together they helped her relearn to walk.

Even if you don’t need animal-assisted therapy, there are many advantages that come from sharing your life with a pet.. Pets can help reduce stress or anxiety. They are particularly helpful with the elderly as therapy pets help keep them active and reduce feelings of isolation and depression.  Pets are great for helping with social interactions!

The goals of Animal Assisted Therapy include the following:

  • Physical health:
    • Improve fine motor skills
    • Increase exercise practice
  • Mental Health:
    • Increase self-esteem
    • Reduce anxiety
    • Reduce stress
    • Reduce loneliness
  • Educational
    • Increase attention skills
    • Develop recreation skills
    • Increase vocabulary, knowledge of concepts
    • Increase motivation
  • Social Skills:
    • Improve the capacity to be involved in a group activity
    • Increase physical and verbal interactions with others