pet therapy

Pet Therapy



Animal-assisted therapy (AAT), also known as pet therapy, utilizes trained animals and handlers to achieve specific physical, social, cognitive, and emotional goals with patients.


Studies have shown that physical contact with a pet can lower high blood pressure, and improve survival rates for heart attack victims. There is also evidence that petting an animal can cause endorphins to be released. Endorphins are chemicals in the body that suppress the pain response. These are benefits that can be enjoyed from pet ownership, as well as from visiting therapeutic animals.
Many skills can be learned or improved with the assistance of a therapy animal. Patient rehabilitation can be encouraged by such activities as walking or running with a dog, or throwing objects for the animal to retrieve. Fine motor skills may be developed by petting, grooming, or feeding the animal. Patient communication is encouraged by the response of the animal to either verbal or physical commands. Activities such as writing or talking about the therapy animals or past pets also develop cognitive skills and communication. Creative inclusion of an animal in the life or therapy of a patient can make a major difference in the patient's comfort, progress, and recovery.



The enjoyment of animals as companions dates back many centuries, perhaps even to prehistoric times. The first known therapeutic use of animals started in Gheel, Belgium in the ninth century. In this town, learning to care for farm animals has long been an important part of an assisted living program designed for people with disabilities.
Some of the earliest uses of animal-assisted healing in the United States were for psychiatric patients. The presence of the therapy animals produced a beneficial effect on both children and adults with mental health issues. It is only in the last few decades that AAT has been more formally applied in a variety of therapeutic settings, including schools and prisons, as well as hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, and outpatient care programs.
The way in which AAT is undertaken depends on the needs and abilities of the individual patient. Dogs are the most common visiting therapy animals, but cats, horses, birds, rabbits, and other domestic pets can be used as long as they are appropriately screened and trained.
For patients who are confined, small animals can be brought to the bed if the patient is willing and is not allergic to the animal. A therapeutic plan may include a simple interaction aimed at improving communication and small motor skills, or a demonstration with educational content to engage the patient cognitively.
If the patient is able to walk or move around, more options are available. Patients can walk small animals outside, or learn how to care for farm animals. Both of these activities develop confidence and motor abilities. Horseback riding has recently gained great therapeutic popularity. It offers an opportunity to work on balance, trunk control, and other skills. Many patients who walk with difficulty, or not at all, get great emotional benefit from interacting with and controlling a large animal.
One advantage of having volunteers provide this service is that cost and insurance are not at issue.


AAT does not involve just any pet interacting with a patient. Standards for the training of the volunteers and their animals are crucial in order to promote a safe, positive experience for the patient. Trained volunteers will understand how to work with other medical professionals to set goals for the patient and keep records of progress. Animals that have been appropriately trained are well socialized to people, other animals, and medical equipment. They are not distracted by the food and odors that may be present in the therapy environment and will not chew inappropriate objects or mark territory.
Animals participating in AAT should be covered by some form of liability insurance.

Research and general acceptance

While the research evidence supporting the efficacy of AAT is slim, the anecdotal support is vast. Although it may not be given much credence by medical personnel as a therapy with the potential to assist the progress of the patients, some institutions do at least allow it as something that will uplift the patients or distract them from their discomforts.



Delta Society.

Key terms

Endorphins — A group of chemicals resembling opiates that are released in the body in response to trauma or stress. Endorphins react with opiate receptors in the brain to reduce pain sensations.
The use of a domestic pet as an adjunct to psychotherapy and for persons with a marginal role in society—e.g., children in foster care, the elderly in nursing homes, mentally and physically disabled, inmates of correctional facilities, for those in mental or physical isolation, or with low self-esteem

pet therapy

Pet-facilitated therapy Psychology The use of a domestic pet as an adjunct to psychotherapy and for persons with a marginal role in society–eg, children in foster care, the elderly, in nursing homes, mentally retarded, physically handicapped, inmates of correctional facilities, for those in mental or physical isolation, or with a low self-esteem. See Companionship, Most significant other; Cf Social isolation.

pet therapy

The therapeutic use of animals, e.g., as pets or companions for the socially isolated or infirm.
References in periodicals archive ?
Since joining Carolyn in her classroom, Buzz has become a pet therapy dog who can respond to 50 words or phrases in sign language.
Peata is a voluntary organisation which provides a pet therapy service to caring institutions | Collections assistant Lauren Vonbechmann poses next to the Tate Baby House - dating from 1760 and |owned by five or six generations, during a photo call and preview of the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum of Childhood's forthcoming Small Stories: At home in a doll's house exhibition in London YUI MOK/PA WIRE
Last year's winners included Fitzpatrick Referrals, TV's Supervet, for Innovative Business of the Year; West W Highland Terrier Hamish, who spent more than a decade as a pet therapy dog, won Caring Animal of the Year, and veteran animal campaigner Ann Lilly, known to her friends as Sister Lilly, who dedicated her life to helping animals was given the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Vulnerable prisoners in Northern Ireland are benefiting from innovative Pet Therapy.
This is my philosophy: A lot of places say, 'We have pet therapy,' and what they have is someone who brings a dog in on a leash once a week,'' she said.
While the study might seem like a bit of fun, the findings could be used to improve the effectiveness of pet therapy in order to make better matches between pets and people.
They had a paddling pool there and it was good pet therapy for the residents.
They choose to spend time at the bedside, help family caregivers, participate with outreach efforts, assist in the office, bring their beloved dog to visit patients through the pet therapy program, sing or play an instrument giving soothing sounds to ease pain, provide massage and other comforting touch, help with fundraising, make keepsake quilts, prepare beautiful castings of a loved one's hand and so much more.
Toby the Pet Therapy Dog and His Hospital Friends Charmaine Hammond, author
The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides free, ongoing groups that offer peer support and therapeutic interaction with professionally trained pet therapy dogs.
He is a registered pet therapy dog who brings comfort to elderly people at the care homes he regularly visits.
As part of his work program, Wes totes his favorite rabbit Ricochet around to other residents, who are also able to enjoy the rabbits as part of the successful community pet therapy program.