Benefits of Pet Therapy for Your Health

Pet-TherapyThe benefits of pet interactions for one’s emotional and physical health are truly remarkable. Pet therapy does more than simply provide entertainment- it is an applied science that is utilized for a variety of medical conditions.

Pet therapy began in the 1860s to provide social support for the mentally ill. The National Institute of Health funded grants for research to encourage further advancements. It has been found that dogs can calm down children with epileptic seizures and improve communication skills in autistic patients. Dogs have even been found to smell cancer in owners before they get a formal diagnosis. The most common therapeutic animals for older people are dogs, cats, and rabbits. Pet therapy can benefit elderly people, particularly dementia patients, in the following ways:

Mood Boost: Depression is common among older people, often a result of losing of a spouse, getting a terminal diagnosis, or leaving the comforts of home-life. Pet therapy can help to boost morale and reduce agitation and stress levels. Animal interactions increase oxytocin levels, which help with feelings of happiness and trust; they can also lower the stress hormone, cortisol, and increase levels of serotonin, a “feel good hormone.” Therapy animals also offer entertainment, and many patients simply enjoy observing therapy dogs’ mannerisms and tricks that the majority can perform.
Socialization: Older people, whether living on their own, with a caregiver, or in an assisted living home, may feel isolated. Pets can offer comfort and unconditional love. According to Mara M. Baun, coordinator of the PhD nursing program at University of Texas, people with Alzheimer’s disease can recognize a dog as someone new in their environment with whom “they can interact with without any worry.”
Physical Activity: Pet therapy can encourage physical activity, whether from simply grooming the animal, tossing a ball, or going on a walk (depending on a patient’s mobility).
Eating Habits for Dementia Patients: Weight loss is common among patients with Alzheimer’s disease and is associated with an increased progression of the disease. One study examined residents in a dementia-specific unit in Indiana. Based on measurements taken prior to the start of the study, there was an average decline in weight loss amongst the residents. With the four-month installation of a fish tank in the dining room, there was a significant average increase in weights and a 27.1% increase in nutritional intake.

For caregivers seeking pet therapy for their loved ones, there are several options. Many organizations offer pet therapy services; the most qualified dogs will be registered with the Delta Society, Pet Therapy International, or Therapy Dogs International. Another option is pet ownership. Pets can help to reduce stress levels in caregivers, who are more likely to suffer from prolonged stress due to the responsibilities of caring for a loved one. When making a selection, the best therapy dogs are easy-tempered, tolerant, groomed, and well-trained (knowing tricks is an added plus). Considering its multitude of benefits, pet therapy may be a good option when tailoring a treatment plan for a loved one.


Photo credit: Telluride Pet Sitting

“Animal-Assisted Therapy and Nutrition in Alzheimer’s Disease” –

“How Caregivers Can Use Pet Therapy to Care for Their Loved One” –

“How Animal Therapy Helps Dementia Patients” –

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