Pet Therapy

It has been well documented that pets have a significant impact on people’s anxiety levels. That research led to the development of Pet Therapy, the practice of bringing dogs and cats into hospitals and nursing homes so that patients can interact with them.

How Does Pet Therapy Work?

Pet Therapy, also known as Animal-assisted therapy, is designed to provide motivation and recreational opportunities that increase a cancer patient’s overall quality of life. The animals are brought to the therapeutic facilities by volunteers who have not only had training in handling the animals, but also understand the mechanics of the interaction between the animals and the patients.

Pet Therapy is not merely bringing animals to a facility to visit; it is a medical intervention that has specific objectives, for example, relieving anxiety or lowering blood pressure. The animal is an important part of the patient’s clinical treatment regimen. The inclusion of Pet Therapy into the treatment program is supervised by a healthcare provider who has training in the clinical applications of human-animal interactions.

How Safe is This Kind of Therapy?

Organizations that provide this service provide initial training for volunteers and continuing education. The focus of this education is making sure that the visit is safe for both patients and the animals. In addition, the animals in these programs must be current with all vaccinations, and they are tested before they are permitted to go to facilities to be sure their personalities are suited to this kind of work.

The American Humane Society operates a Pet Therapy program. Here is the agency’s description of how it maintains quality control:

“American Humane’s Animal-Assisted Therapy Program volunteers undergo intensive training to ensure that their visits are safe for the animals, the handlers and the clients. Our volunteers carry proof of their therapy animals’ regular health exams and vaccinations, and they are diligent in practicing infection control and risk management. In addition, our handler/animal teams are evaluated every two years to ensure that they retain the high level of skill and aptitude necessary to safely volunteer in health-care and educational environments.”

Research Examines the Therapeutic Effect of Pet Therapy

In an article titled “Animal-Assisted Interventions in Internal and Rehabilitation Medicine: a Review of the Recent Literature”, published June 2011 in Panminerva Medica (A Journal on Internal Medicine), researchers conducted a meta-analysis of the existing literature on Pet Therapy. A meta-analysis is a review of all articles about a subject that have appeared in medical journals. The articles that are selected to be included in the study must meet specific pre-established criteria developed by the researchers conducting the study.

In this case, the researchers broke Pet Therapy into three different categories:

  • Animal-assisted activities – 18 papers were included in the study
  • Animal-assisted therapy – 8 paper s were included in the study
  • Service animal programs – 9 papers were included in the study

Here’s what they found:

  • Animal-assisted activities enhanced socialization, reduced stress, anxiety and loneliness, and improved mood.
  • Animal-assisted therapy was used to normalize muscle tone and improve motor skills.
  • Service animal programs, which consisted primarily of dogs, aided people with serious disabilities to be more independent.

The researchers recommended further study into the uses of animal therapy.

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