What do dogs, horses, and dolphins all have in common? Besides being extremely intelligent, these animals can support your mental health. 

Whether it’s in medical centers, nursing homes, or universities, animals can help you work toward bettering your mental well-being and addressing health concerns. Pet therapy is a growing practice that is seeing immense results in lowering stress and anxiety in individuals. This is especially true for children, as they do not have as many anxiety-reducing mechanisms as adults. 

Because working with pets can reduce pain, anxiety, and depression, these populations can benefit from pet therapy: 

* Children having dental procedures; those receiving cancer treatment; long-term care residents; people with cardiovascular diseases; dementia patients; veterans or survivors of domestic violence with post-traumatic stress disorder; and those with anxiety.

Pet therapy has also been known to help people better cope or recover from depression, grief, heart disease, improving motor skills, increasing self-esteem, promoting movement and exercise, decreasing loneliness, and developing social skills.

A research study on the effectiveness of pet therapy in reducing stress and anxiety in individuals found that self-reported anxiety levels significantly dropped after partaking in pet therapy. The same study found that pet therapy can reduce physiological stress. 

Pet therapy can be understood as a guided interaction between a person and a certified animal. Programs ask individuals to try different techniques with animals. These techniques could be, but are not limited to, playing, petting, grooming, sitting, or even talking with an animal. Therapy programs also create goals between the doctor or therapist and client or patient. These goals are then monitored by the doctor or therapist to ensure that the agreed-upon treatment plan is moving in the direction that the client or patient wants.

Not only can pet therapy help an individual heal or achieve their goals, but utilizing pets in therapy can help better connect and build trust with health care providers and therapists. The effect of this connection and trust being that the client or patient is much more likely to attend and keep sessions and appointments. 

The biggest health concerns of pet therapy include safety and sanitation. Hospitals have rules and guidelines in place to ensure animals are vaccinated, well-trained, and screened before pairing them with a client or patient. The health and safety of the animal and the individual seeking services is of the utmost importance in this kind of therapy work.

Editor’s note: The Chronicle has partnered with the Center for Community Counseling to publish mental health and wellness articles. Contact the team at 541-344-0620 and at ccceugene.org

SOURCES

* Earles, J.L.; Vernon, L.L.; Yetz, J.P. (2018). Equine-assisted therapy for anxiety and PTSD. Journal of Traumatic Stress. 28(2), pp. 149-152. 

* Mayo Clinic staff. (2012). Pet Therapy: Man’s Best Friend as Healer. mayoclinic.org

* Giorgi, Anna. (2017). Pet Therapy. Oct. 4, 2021. healthline.com/