Also called animal-assisted therapy, pet-assisted therapy improves a patient’s social, cognitive, motor, and emotional function with the aid of animals. However, this unique type of therapy is much more than simply spending time with an animal or having one as a pet. Depending on a patient’s needs, pet-assisted therapy involves different therapeutic goals and the use of various techniques. Below, we’ll delve deeper into what animal-assisted therapy is all about, so keep reading!
An Overview of Pet-Assisted Therapy
Who Can Receive Pet-Assisted Therapy?
Animal-assisted therapy can benefit patients will all types of different conditions. Some of the most common are:
- Autism spectrum disorders. Animal-assisted therapy may reduce the symptoms of ASD such as irritability, aggressiveness, or distractibility. It can also increase one’s ability to communicate.
- Dementia. A patient with dementia may benefit from pet-assisted therapy because it encourages the expression of emotions and cognitive stimulation.
- Developmental disorders
- Emotional and behavioral disorders. Animal-assisted therapy is an encouraging and non-invasive method for treating a number of emotional disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as behavioral disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
- Chronic pain
Some of the less common conditions that animal-assisted therapy can help treat are addiction and heart disease. No matter the condition, there’s no doubt that animal-assisted therapy is beneficial to patients who receive it.
What are the Benefits?
It’s no surprise that there is a strong bond between animals and people. Animals are accepting and non-judgmental, so it’s much easier for patients to open up and adjust to them. Aside from adding more participation and fun to a patient’s therapy treatment, adding animals into the mix has a ton of other benefits:
- Motor benefits. Pet-assisted therapy can help to increase a patient’s range of motion, strength, endurance, and hand-eye coordination. Additionally, it is used to improve walking, balance, and postural control. Many physical therapists and occupational therapists are starting to incorporate animals into their treatment plans.
- Sensory benefits. Animal-assisted therapy increases one’s relaxation and motivation. It also helps to improve a patient’s depth perception and ability to track objects with their eyes.
- Social-emotional benefits. This is one of the biggest benefits of animal-assisted therapy. Animals help to increase a patient’s independence, sense of purpose, self-esteem, and safety awareness. Not only that, but animals can also boost one’s confidence levels and social relationships, and decrease anxiety levels.
Clearly, pet-assisted therapy has a wide range of benefits that can be useful in treating a wide range of different conditions.
What Animals are Used for Therapy?
There are all kinds of different animals that can be used for pet-assisted therapy, from dogs to llamas. Here are a few of the most common:
- Dogs. These four-legged friends are the most common therapy animals due to their undeniable, loyal bond with humans.
- Horses. Equine therapy is very useful since horses naturally observe and respond to nonverbal cues, which is especially useful for reflecting patients’ emotional and behavioral states. For some patients, horses make it easier for them to recognize dysfunctional patterns of behavior.
- Cats. While not as energetic as dogs and horses, cats make a great therapy animal. It’s been proven that petting a cat relieves stress and leads to a better ability to relax and unwind.
- Llamas. Surprisingly, llamas are not an uncommon choice when it comes to animal-assisted therapy. Their benefit is similar to that of a horse’s and some patients prefer a llama’s smaller size.
All in all, animal-assisted therapy can benefit all types of therapists and patients across a variety of settings, from young children in classrooms to adults in physical therapy.
Do you have any exposure to pet-assited therapy? Share your experiences in the comments section below!