The Benefits of Therapy Animals

The Benefits Therapy Animals We can all attest to the mood lifting and stress relieving benefits of having a pet around. We can’t help to smile when our dog cuddles up to us or our cats crawl into our lap. There are proven physical and mental health benefits to owning a pet and being around animals. Therapy animals are a way for people in lonely, stressful, or traumatic situations that might not be able to own pets to share in the health benefits. Therapy animals, often dogs, are used in retirement and nursing homes, schools, hospices, disaster areas, for veterans, and people with disorders or disabilities. Some people even have therapy pets, specifically for the health benefits that animal companionship provides.

Therapy pets are different from service animals. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, in the United States, “A service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.” This includes tasks like pulling a wheelchair or reminding a person to take medication. For more information about service dogs and how they differ from emotional support animals, comfort animals, and therapy dogs, check out the ADA’s guide to Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals.

Therapy Pets and Therapy Animals

Animals used for therapy purposes range from live-in pets that act as emotional support animals to their owners to animals certified by organizations like Therapy Dogs International or Pet Partners and volunteer animals that work with and are trained by hospitals or other organizations. The American Kennel Club offers a list of certifying organizations and therapy groups on their website, which you can find here.

The Physical Benefits of Therapy Dogs and Cats

  • lowers blood pressure.
  • improves cardiovascular health.
  • releases calming endorphins (oxytocin).
  • lowers overall physical pain.
  • the act of petting produces an automatic relaxation response, which is believed to reduce the amount of medication needed by some people.

mental health benefits therapy animalsThe Mental Health Benefits of Emotional Support Animals and Comfort Pets

  • lifts spirits and lessens depression.
  • lowers feelings of isolation and alienation.
  • encourages communication.
  • provides comfort.
  • increases socialization.
  • lessens boredom.
  • reduces anxiety.
  • aids children in overcome speech and emotional disorders.
  • creates motivation for the client to recover faster.
  • reduces loneliness.

Uses of Therapy Animals

Pet Therapy

Pet therapy or animal-assisted therapy is becoming a common way for health professionals to improve patient’s social, emotional, and mental functioning with the support of animals. These therapy animals range from cats and dogs to horses and dolphins.

Schools

Many colleges and universities bring therapy dogs to campus, often around mid-terms or finals, to help students relax and destress. Students say that interacting with these animals can be very mood lifting, especially if they have family pets they don’t often get to see.

In Hospitals

Many hospitals have formal or information programs to bring animals in for patients. Cedars-Sinai has a program called POOCH, where volunteer dogs visit patients that have requested a visit.

After a Disaster

Some organizations work both locally and nationally to send therapy animals to tragically affected areas. These therapeutic animals help people recover from physical ailments and emotional trauma.

Want Your Pet to Become a Therapy Animal?

Your pet can become certified through organizations like Pet Partners or Therapy Dogs International. While Pet Partners’ team of therapy animals is 94% dogs, they register eight other species too (including cats, guinea pigs, llamas, pigs, and rats).

While it might sound like a fun and fulfilling activity for you and your pet, there are many qualifications that have to be met. Being well-behaved and well-trained is a must for your pet, and they must enjoy and voluntarily approach strangers.  

Animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell notes that although “a therapy [animal] must be able to tolerate all manner of rudeness, it’s your job to eliminate as much stress as you possibly can … as the human half of the team, you play several roles, and one of them is to be your [pet’s] advocate.” You must be able to read your pet’s body language at all times to access their mood and intervene as you can.

Therapy work can be stressful for many animals, but if you believe that your pet has the right temperament and would enjoy the work, look for a local or online class about volunteering for animal therapy.


*All data and information provided on this site is for informational purposes only and reflect the views of the authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect those of the organization. Redbarninc.com makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All information is provided on an as-is basis. Please note that each situation is different, and you should always consult your veterinarian should you have any questions about your pet’s health.

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There are 5 comments

  1. Sheena Jennings

    My health issues since 2006 have been horrendous. I am now disabled have mobility issues and am at home 90% of the time and alone a large part of they. My doc suggested a theraphy dog to keep me company and to be trained to alert others if I had a problem breathing. My little Gracie has required very little training. The wrong breath sound from me and she alerts anyone within hearing distance. She is living and sleeps with me and goes everywhere I go if possible. I am trying to save the certification fees now that she’s trained to my emotional needs and health alerts.

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