These animals are not just the pets you’ll find at the pet store; they go through special training to become service animals ready to help in a multitude of ways. And by simply caring for a dog (brushing, feeding, walking), survivors experience therapeutic effects.
What is Pet Therapy?
Pet therapy is not just a fancy term for having a pet. Pet therapy, also known as animal-assisted therapy or AAT, uses trained animals as a form of treatment. While almost any kind of domesticated animal can be a part of pet therapy, canine therapy is the most common and most popular. Dogs are ideal therapy animals because they are comforting and non-judgemental, and therapy dogs undergo extensive training before working with a patient.
In pet therapy sessions, the patient normally works with a licensed therapist, a trained animal, and the animal’s handler to help with their recovery. In these sessions, the animal can assist the patient with a variety of symptoms, including aphasia, spasticity, hemiparesis, and depression. Here are some of the benefits pet therapy can have for stroke patients:
How Pet Therapy Can Help Stroke Patients
Loneliness One great benefit of pet therapy is how it can make stroke survivors feel less lonely. Having a stroke can be an isolating experience. If the survivor suffers from aphasia, it may be difficult for them to communicate with others. If they are unable to walk, they will likely spend most of their time at home. An animal provides company and stimulation, allowing a stroke survivor to have a more varied lifestyle.
Provide Motivation to Walk A dog can provide an incentive for a stroke survivor to want to work on gait training and rebuilding their walking ability. Christi Dudzik, an animal assisted therapy provider, has seen patients when working with a therapy dog walk twice as far as they did the day before. The reason behind this, she says, is that “they are distracted by the dog and aren’t aware they’re walking twice as far.”
Help With Aphasia Pets encourage stroke survivors with aphasia to try to communicate. Dogs are able to pick up on nonverbal cues, like hand signals and sounds, and may respond to just one word, making it easier for someone with aphasia to practice communicating. When out and about with a dog, the pet is also a great conversation starter, giving the stroke survivor more opportunities to practice talking with strangers.
Lessening Depression Stroke recovery and rehabilitation can be difficult, and it can take an emotional toll on the survivor. Pets offer the acceptance, love, and motivation that a stroke survivor may struggle to find in themselves. Even just petting an animal can provide a calming and comforting effect that can help with a survivor’s mental health.
Assist With Stroke Exercises Therapy dogs can assist a stroke survivor with their stroke recovery exercises. A simple activity like brushing the dog’s fur can act as a hand exercise and help decrease spasticity and increase motor recovery. They can also practice motor tasks by doing things like snapping the dog’s leash on and off, tying a bandana around their neck, and feeding them treats.
Pets Give Purpose For stroke survivors, an animal could be the missing link in their recovery efforts. Dogs are common therapy pets, and there are many benefits to having one. They can provide the comfort and motivation a stroke survivor needs to power through their recovery and improve their mental health. Caring for a dog may also improve confidence in survivors because it makes it easier for them to meet people and be social.
Content written by Saebo