What Is Pet Therapy?

What Is Pet Therapy?

You may have heard this term before but you weren’t sure what it meant. Pet therapy is a relatively new type of program that uses various types of animals to assist human beings with rehabilitation, mental disorders and comfort. Keep reading to find out more about pet therapy.


Pet therapy is also referred to as “assisted animal therapy.” It is the notion that animals have healing properties just by their very existence and proximity to humans. It is not magic, but a bond between life forms that has many benefits.

Therapy Animals versus Service Animals

Using animals for therapeutic reasons should not be confused with having a service animal. Service animals are trained by professionals to be of assistance to those with physical or mental disabilities. The animals perform certain tasks for them or act as alarms when dangerous conditions arise. They are the property of a single owner at a time and only the owner touches the animal.


On the other hand, therapy animals are usually pets of private owners who volunteer or contract out their services to facilities that could use their help. These animals don’t perform tasks but provide comfort, relief, contentment and social interaction for a variety of patients with specific needs. Therapy animals work with individuals or groups. In order to be effective, measurable goals and a plan are constructed by the therapist along with the animal and its owner.

What Types of Pets Are Used as Therapy Animals?

The most common therapy pets are dogs and cats. Equine therapy (use of horses) is also enjoying a healthy presence in this new field. These are not the only ones, however. The main requirement is that the pet be gentle when handled by one or several people. Other pets used include birds, guinea pigs, goldfish, even chickens and reptiles. As long as the patient is not afraid of the pet and receptive to it, that animal could become a therapy pet.


Benefits of Pet Therapy

Whatever the pet type, use of an animal in the therapy process has some interesting benefits:

* Improved focus and balance (depending on the animal and the activity)

* Physical interaction and contact

* Lowered blood pressure

* Increased mental stimulation

* Empathy (pets often mirror the behaviors of their owners)

* Increased self-esteem

* Improved problem-solving skills

* Greater trust and teamwork in therapy

This is just an abbreviated list but you can see where we’re going with this.

Who Can They Help?


People from all walks of life can benefit from pet therapy. These pets are most commonly seen in nursing facilities where they serve as a constant for people suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. In hospitals, they aid cancer patients, heart patients, and those suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Individuals with autism spectrum disorders as well as developmental disorders may also benefit from the prescence of such an animal.

If you know someone for whom traditional therapy alone is not working, consider adding a loving pet to the equation.

Four Ways a Therapy Pet Can Help the Sick

You may not think that pets and hospitals go hand in hand, but they do. The very presence of an animal in the hospital often causes an uproar – but in a good way. Everyone wants to get in on the fun.

Have you ever been in hospital? It can be a scary place. And, it’s filled with sick people. The environment can also be lonely and isolated with only health professionals coming into your room. For some, hospitals conjure up visions of pain and death. But, it doesn’t have to be that way.


Pet therapy programs can be found in a number of healthcare facilities. They are designed to assist patients with recovery and treatment. We have heard about pets increasing good mood and decreasing blood pressure. They are sensitive to the moods of their owners and strive to soothe them whenever possible. Pets have been used in therapy for people with pain issues (such as arthritis), behavioral issues, mental health patients, veterans with PTSD, nursing home residents and more.

Just their companionship can provide health benefits such as:

* Lower cholesterol levels

* Lower blood pressure (previously mentioned)

* Increased alertness

* Increased balance

* Increased wellbeing and socialization

* Less stress

Who wouldn’t benefit from that kind of therapy? People worry about pets in hospitals but measures are carefully taken to ensure that the animals chosen to participate in these therapy programs are immunized, friendly, clean and well-behaved.

Four Ways to Help Sick People with Pets

  1. Face challenges – Pets are a responsibility. Learning to care for them and see them every day can spark a renewed sense of purpose in those who are undergoing chemotherapy or other major procedure. Their bond with the pets gives them a reason to fight on and meet difficult medical challenges with hope and a positive outlook.
  2. Shorter recovery time – Many hospital patients who receive pet therapy are reminded of their own pets left behind at home. The therapy pet is a willing surrogate and can also help their recipients to recover faster or need less care so that they can get back home to their beloved dog or cat. Many patients are secretly worried about who will care for their pets while they are away or if something happens to them.
  3. Companionship – It can be lonely staying in the hospital. Therapy animals make the stay more interesting and less isolated. Patients who may not get a lot of visitors look forward to their daily dog walk or cuddle time.
  4. Improved family interaction – Other family members benefit from animal visits as well. The presence of a dog affects everyone in the room. They can forget for a moment and enjoy a laugh and a cuddle with their loved one and their doggie friend.

Sickness doesn’t have to be a lonely experience when therapy pets are around.

The systematic use of therapy dogs is attributed to Elaine Smith who worked as a registered nurse. Smith noticed how well patients responded to visits by a chaplain and his Golden Retriever. In 1976, Smith started a program for training dogs to visit institutions, and the demand for therapy dogs continued to grow. In recent years, therapy dogs have been enlisted to help children overcome speech and emotional disorders.

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