Mental health benefits of pet therapy

Pet therapy entails a guided interaction between a trained animal and an individual. The purpose of this type of therapy is to aid the patient while they are recovering from or coping with a major health problem or a mental health disorder. Another term for this form of therapy is animal-assisted therapy (AAT).

The most commonly used animals in pet therapy are typically cats and dogs. The type of animals used for this therapy are chosen based on the psychological and therapeutic needs of the patient as well as their mental health treatment plan.

What is pet therapy used for?

Pet therapy is used to help build a bond between the patient and the animal. According to the Veterinary Medical Association (VMA), pet therapy can help patients progress towards goals that deal with social, emotional, physical, and cognitive functions and wellbeing.

When opting for pet therapy, it’s important to have a defined list of objectives. A patient’s progress throughout the series of therapy sessions is recorded to monitor their response to the treatment. The goals of pet therapy may include:

  • Enhancing self-esteem
  • Reducing anxiety
  • Improving interpersonal communication
  • Motivating patients to exercise
  • Lessening feelings of loneliness
  • Augmenting coping skills
  • Expanding verbal communication
  • Increasing willingness to socialize

Who can benefit from pet therapy?

Pet therapy can be highly beneficial for patients struggling with mental disorders, chronic illnesses, or those undergoing difficult medical procedures. This type of therapy is commonly used for treating patients struggling with severe mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It can also be offered to patients who are in long-term and short-term care facilities. This method of treatment has proven to be helpful in improving coping skills for patients undergoing cancer treatments and children who have undergone intensive medical procedures.

What steps does pet therapy entail?

The first step of this process is picking the right animal to use during therapy sessions. Once the animal and their handler have been matched, the animal is designated for therapy based on the patient’s needs. An initial physical examination of the therapy pet will ensure that the animal is immunized and free of disease. The pet is then taken through an obedience training course to make the animal manageable for the patient to handle, guaranteeing the safety of both the pet and the patient. During the therapy, both the behavior of the patient and the pet is monitored and evaluated.

What are the benefits of pet therapy?

Patients can reap several benefits from pet therapy and in the process improve their mental and physical health. It can serve as an effective treatment for alleviating levels of stress, decreasing the need for psychiatric medications, and diminishing symptoms of mental illnesses. The natural human-animal bond can be very therapeutic and helpful when it comes to coping with tragic circumstances in a positive manner. The relief patients experience during such therapy sessions is attributed to the physiological and psychological effects that take place when a patient learns how to properly communicate with and nurture for the animal.

Researchers at the University of Missouri, Columbia conducted a research on pet and animal assisted therapy. Their research suggests that the hormonal changes that take place when a patient and a dog interact can help people better cope with depression and other stress-related mental illnesses. Results showed that just a few minutes of petting triggered a release of “feel good” hormones like serotonin, oxytocin, and prolactin. This action also prompted a decrease in the main “stress” hormone, cortisol.

Recovering from mental illnesses

Pets are caring and entertaining. They make one feel loved by being around and demanding the owner’s attention on a regular basis. Though, they love one unconditionally, at times, owning a pet and taking care of it can be stressful if one struggles with a serious mental illness. In such scenarios, it is best to seek professional support to deal with the mental disorder and opt for a center that offers AAT.

If you or a loved one is battling a mental health disorder and is looking for a mental health treatment center, get in touch with Medical Concierge. We offer evidence-based treatment programs personalized to help the patient meet their treatment objectives. Call our 24/7 helpline 877-636-0042 and speak to a member of our team. You can also chat online to a representative to discuss your options of mental health services.

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