By Jane Marsh
Guest Writer for Wake Up World
Western medicine has drastically evolved over the past decade. Doctors are prescribing fewer pharmaceuticals and exploring alternative medical practices. Professionals are recommending therapy to more patients as their primary treatment method.
A unique therapy practice influencing the medical field today involves animals. Rehabilitation centers, physical recovery specialists, and mental health professionals are using animals to improve patients’ physical and emotional well-being. Here are 10 significant benefits of using animals in therapy.
What Is Animal Therapy?
Before assessing the benefits of animal therapy, individuals must identify the practice’s key features. Pet therapy involves creatures like dogs, cats, horses, and more. The animals provide physical and emotional aid to individuals struggling with cancer, heart disease, depression, and other conditions.
Patients lead, feed, groom, and ride horses in equine-assisted therapy sessions. Dog-assisted therapy is more accessible and widely used in hospitals. When therapists and patients work with dogs, they engage in physical affection and care.
Most patients who receive pet-assisted therapy report a sense of comfort and optimism. Some individuals can dissociate from hospital settings when dogs are nearby. Dogs, horses, rabbits, cats, and even guinea pigs offer several mental and physical benefits to individuals.
1. Decreased Anxiety and Stress
Mental health professionals often use animal-assisted therapy to treat anxiety patients. Researchers identified the benefits of animal therapy on 230 anxious individuals. They took pre-treatment and post-treatment therapy readings and found lower anxiety rates in patients who engaged in pet-assisted therapy.
2. Improved Empathy and Affection
Another benefit of animal therapy is increased empathy and affection. Professionals use pets in dementia treatment. When dementia patients engage with therapy dogs, they express less agitation and more compassion towards others.
3. Lower Perception of Pain
The third benefit of animal-assisted therapy is lower pain perceptions. Researchers conducted a study to record dogs’ effects on pain patients in a clinic. They assessed the impacts of animal therapy on individuals over a two-month period.
Professionals found a 23% decrease in pain throughout the study. Pain clinics can place pets in waiting, evaluation, and therapy rooms to improve patients’ emotional and physical well-being.
4. Increased Sense of Social Support
Therapy pets are especially useful in social disorder treatment. Individuals with autism and social anxiety receive unconditional support from therapy animals. The animals also promote conversation between patients and their therapists, bridging social gaps.
5. Reduced Fear
The fifth benefit of animal therapy is fear reduction. Cancer patients often develop severe phobias of death. Equine therapy helps patients remain present and focus on life outside themselves.
Horses can display a more mindful way of living. They show little concern about the future and death. Cancer patients may adopt a similar mentality after caring for and connecting with them.
6. Weight Loss
Physical therapists also use animal intervention to help patients lose weight. Riding therapy horses can increase one’s cardiovascular health and improve their fitness levels. Patients can burn nearly 600 calories each ride, reducing their risk of heart disease by 35% on average.
7. Blood Pressure Reduction
Another physical health benefit of animal therapy is blood pressure reduction. Researchers discovered dogs could lower one’s blood pressure more effectively than an angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor. Some blood pressure medications have adverse side effects, so limiting one’s intake with pet therapy can improve overall well-being.
8. Increased “Feel Good” Hormones
Engaging in horseback riding or pack walks can help individuals recover from physical injuries. The therapy method also improves one’s mental health by releasing endorphins. The hormonal response reduces individuals’ perception of pain and enhances positive feelings.
9. Reduced Sense of Loneliness
The ninth benefit of animal therapy is reducing one’s sense of loneliness. Autistic patients can connect more effectively with animals than humans. Pets offer nonjudgmental support to individuals with isolation tendencies.
10. Improved Language Skills
The final benefit of animal-assisted therapy involves speech enhancements. Speech therapists recognize an increase in communication during sessions where dogs are present. Patients with communication barriers, like autism or speech impediments, are more motivated to learn during animal therapy sessions.
Experienced therapists can also assess nonverbal communication between patients and pets. They may use the information to treat their patients effectively.
After evaluating the top advantages of animal therapy, individuals may feel compelled to engage in a session.
How Can You Engage in Animal Therapy?
There are various animal therapy centers around the world, helping patients with different diagnoses. Before individuals search for animal-assisted therapy in their regions, they should determine their mental and physical conditions. If you are feeling withdrawn, fearful, uninterested, in pain, or in physical discomfort, you should contact a medical professional.
After receiving a mental and physical assessment, you can determine your ability to engage in pet therapy. When searching for an animal therapy professional, you should assess their credentials. Patients can confidently trust the treatment process of licensed therapists.
Is Animal Therapy Right for You?
Animal-assisted therapy is not for everyone. And not every form of it is equally applicable. If you have physical limitations, you may benefit more from dog therapy than equine therapy, for example. Once you find the best therapy method for your condition, you can experience a plethora of physical and emotional benefits.
About the author:
Jane is the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co where she shares practical tips on how to live a greener life.