If you have been in to visit a Long Term Care facility, hospital or rehab centre recently, you may have noticed a cat on the unit, some birds, a new fish tank or perhaps a therapy dog in for a visit.
Animal assisted therapy is performed with a trained, certified animal and their handler in which the resident or patient interacts with the animal based on treatment needs, whether playing with, caring for, cuddling or simply petting the animal. Pet therapy is used to help improve mental, social, emotional, and physical functions.
There are 3 types of support animals: service dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support animals (ESA). The training of these animals varies, as does who they help and where they are allowed to go or live. While ESAs are not trained in the same way as service dogs, they are more than pets and must be prescribed.
Who should consider pet therapy?
There are many ways that pet therapy can be useful:
- For people undergoing chemotherapy
- For residents in long-term care facilities
- For people hospitalized with chronic heart failure
- For veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder
- For children having physical or dental procedures
- For stroke victims and people undergoing physical therapy to regain motor skills
- For people with mental health disorders
- For people diagnosed with Alzheimer's/Dementia
Pet Therapy can also help with:
1) Physical activity – Pets such as a dog or a cat help motivate seniors get involved with physical activity. Petting, walking and playing with them provide a fun, soothing activity that seniors can enjoy. For people who have suffered from a stroke, they may have mobility issues, problems with memory and fine motor difficulties. Service dogs can be trained to help— large dogs can steady the person who is wobbly; or the service dog can encourage the person to get up and walk — it's hard to turn down a dog who wants to go outside. Service dogs can be trained to get things that have been dropped and bring them to the person, and they can be used as a part of a fine-motor physical rehab program. For example, the person with a stroke can squeeze an exercise ball, which is a boring task. They could also have a daily goal of brushing the dog, and this becomes functional rehab. Sometimes, after a stroke, the person tends to stay in the house. A service dog can provide companionship.
2) Communication – For those who have difficulty communicating, it can become easily frustrating not being able to convey their thoughts. People who have sensory disabilities can sometimes communicate more easily with an animal. This encourages more interaction with healthcare providers and other people.
3) Emotional support – Pets form a very special bond with humans and that bond can be very fruitful. It has been also seen that people with dementia see pets as being non-threatening and they also tend to display more interactive behaviours. Pet therapy also helps in lessening symptoms of depression and anxiety because of its calming effects. They produce a chemical chain reaction in the brain that helps to lower down the levels of stress inducing hormones; cortisol and helps in increasing the production of feel good hormones serotonin.
4) Enjoyment – They also help with boredom and provide a distraction from a normal daily routine.
5) Sense of purpose – Being or planning to be a pet caregiver and nurturer at an older age gives a sense of being wanted and needed. It gives your loved one a reason to get up in the morning and being greeted with a feline face has the power to make anyone's day bright and full of laughter. It's just impossible to not be happy when your day starts with a dog wagging his tail or a purring cat waiting for your attention. A pet can help bring routine to your loved one's life and also gives them a sense of responsibility.
6) Reminiscence – Pets can also help invoke feelings of joy, happiness, playfulness and old memories to a person with a dementia who may feel that his/her world is changing into something unknowable. Being involved with a pet also helps to reminiscence of the pets they once had.
For more information on Therapy Dog Services, please see the below link for St. John's Ambulance: