person petting a golden retriever

What Is Pet Therapy And How Does It Help?

We are all well aware that the love you get from dogs and cats makes you feel amazing, but science backs up what we knew already.

In the absence of a partner or loved one, a pet is an ideal companion to stave off loneliness. Yet not everyone’s homes are suitable for keeping pets and this means that many elderly adults and those receiving social care never come into contact with a domestic animal.

This is why what is popularly known as “pet therapy” or in the medical world “animal-assisted therapy (AAT)” is welcomed in many care homes and hospitals. Dr. William Thomas put forward the idea that animals, plants and children in nursing homes would stop residents feeling “bored, lonely and helpless.”

Pet therapy is not just for care home setups. It now forms part of community projects for seniors and those with dementia still living at home.

What is pet therapy?

Pet therapy is a goal-directed complementary therapy involving dogs, cats, fish and birds. Similar therapies can also include robotic animals, cuddly toys and dolls where it wouldn’t be appropriate to include a live animal, for example, if someone has allergies.

Animal-assisted activity can include petting and stroking the animal, physical activities, such as picking up a ball to pass to the dog or walking the dog, reminiscence activities for people with dementia, or even just having the animal around. For example, putting aquariums in a care home has been shown to help residents eat more food. Care homes can have a dog in residence to make it feel more like home.

Why include pet therapy?

Dogs have a calming effect in general, and so are ideal study companions for small children learning to read and they help get people with autism involved in social situations. Pet therapy can help establish routines and also promote independence.

The most common pet therapy involves dogs, as dogs are good around people. The dogs have to have the right temperament to be suitable as pet therapy animals. Therefore, younger pups tend not to fit the mould, nor do hyperactive dogs.

Pet therapy can involve a volunteer bringing their pet to visit a client in their home, as long as the animal has had all its injections and is not a risk. Other dogs undergo special training to become working pet therapy dogs.

What do the studies have to say?

While it’s essential to conduct more research in this area, results so far are positive. Pet therapy involving dogs has shown a beneficial effect on mood, cardio-vascular function and even balance. The therapy seems to help short-term memory, lower levels of pain and make people feel less lonely.

What are the other benefits of pet therapy?

Contact with animals brings about a wide range of positive effects. Here are just a few examples:

  • Pet therapy when used as a physical activity can help balance and reduce the likelihood of falling over.
  • It can improve cases of sundowning in people with dementia.
  • It can increase food intake.
  • Dogs and other pets can often have a better connection with people living with dementia than other humans. Therfore, pet therapy can reduce the feeling of isolation.
  • Stroking an animal releases our feel-good hormones (endorphins, dopamine and oxytocin) and so elevates mood.

Pet therapy has benefits for everyone, whether you’re a small child feeling stressed about learning something new, or if you need to relax and feel loved by a non-judgemental furry friend.

If pet therapy is something you’d like to know more about or if you would like Apollo to provide it in your home, then please send us a message or let your care assistant know.

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