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What is pet therapy?

11th April 2022 | 2 mins

In formal terms, pet therapy is a guided interaction between a person and a trained animal. It can also involve the animal’s handler. The purpose of pet therapy is to help someone recover from or cope with a health problem, or more simply to provide companionship that is safe and comforting for the individual.

The power of pets

Are dogs really man’s best friend? According to worldwide research, dogs and other pets can do much more for a person’s health than just being a great companion. In fact, aged care communities can benefit from regular visits from animals trained to offer support and companionship to people in an unfamiliar or stressful environment through animal assisted and pet therapy.

Dogs and cats feature most prominently. Other popular types of animals are fish, chickens, birds, and horses. The type of animal chosen depends on the individual’s preferences and the therapeutic goals of a person’s care plan.

Pet therapy is also known as animal-assisted therapy (AAT), which is a formal, structured set of sessions that helps people reach specific goals in their treatment.

Pet Therapy

What are the benefits of pet therapy?

Pet therapy builds on the pre-existing human-animal bond. Interacting with a pet can help physical and mental issues, including reducing blood pressure and improve overall cardiovascular health.

Pet therapy can also help with releasing endorphins that produce a calming effect, which can help alleviate pain, reduce stress, and improve overall psychological state.

Goals of a pet therapy program can include:

  • improving motor skills and joint movement
  • improving assisted or independent movement
  • increasing self-esteem
  • increasing verbal communication
  • developing social skills
  • increasing willingness to join in activities
  • improving interactions with others
  • motivating willingness to exercise

Other benefits of pet therapy include:

  • making you happier, lessening depression, and improving outlook on life
  • decreasing feeling of loneliness and isolation through companionship
  • reducing boredom
  • increasing calmness and reducing anxiety

Pet therapy in our Care Communities

Pet therapy can enhance an individual’s quality of life with ongoing physical and cognitive benefits and in our Care Communities, this can take many forms. It may be a formal program, having one’s own pet live with the resident in our care, or enjoying regular visits from a family pet.

Whatever the format, when our residents engage in pet therapy, we typically observe improvements in quality of life, including reducing tension, fatigue, and confusion, and encouraging positive emotions and attitudes.

Pet therapy may delay the process of ageing though the increase of physical exercise, socialisation and improvement in mental function. It can boost a resident’s activity levels and help them transition through the sense of loss pet owners, who are leaving loved animals behind, may feel when moving into care, which helps with maintaining mental health.

Spending time with animals may also help in other ways - reducing visits to the doctor and medication intake, as well as lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Elderly people can also recover more quickly from illness and surgery, deal with stressful situations better, and have a reduced risk of heart disease.

A furry friend can help elderly people feel needed and comforted

Pet Therapy

Pet therapy for people living with dementia

Due to the calming nature of animals, people living with dementia can benefit greatly from pet therapy. Animals are able to help calm and comfort people with cognitive decline, even helping them to communicate and speak.

An animal also encourages a person with dementia to express themselves through non-verbal communication and action. There is evidence to suggest pet therapy can make a person with dementia re-engage with what is happening around them.

Studies have found people living with dementia in residential care who participated in pet therapy had improved verbal communication function and greater attentiveness. A 2020 Australian study, An Evaluation of Dog-Assisted Therapy for Residents of Aged Care Facilities with Dementia, found that dog-assisted therapy seemed to have a positive effect including improving the baseline depression scores in residents.

Nothing compares to the joy of spending time with a loyal companion. Animals can enhance an individual’s quality of life with many physical and cognitive benefits.

Our Care Communities love having our furry friends visit or live with us. Dogs and other animals are and will always be part of our community.

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