Animal Assisted Therapy 101: Everything You Need to Know

Pets have a special place in our hearts for a reason. Anyone who has pets or has spent time with a friendly dog or cat can attest to their mood-lifting powers. Research suggests that pets help fight stress and alleviate anxiety, as well as reduce blood pressure levels.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, in response to social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders that have made almost everyone a little lonelier, many people adopted pets across the world. As the connection between humans and animals grows and gains more clinical significance, animal-assisted therapy (AAT) has been witnessing widespread acceptance among the public, researchers, and clinicians.

What Does Animal Assisted Therapy Do?

Animal-assisted therapy involves animal interactions with patients to help them cope with certain medical conditions or aid recovery from health problems. Some forms of Animal assisted therapy include caring for animals such as grooming, bathing the animals, and feeding them regularly. Under the Animal assisted therapy program, an animal, especially therapy dogs, can also be brought to care or hospice facilities, hospitals, nursing homes, and rehabilitation centers to interact with those in need of comfort.

According to medical providers and therapists who support animal-assisted therapy, patient interaction with therapy animals helps in personal and social development and improves self-esteem, mental health, social skills, empathy, and nurturing skills.

Is Animal Assisted Therapy New?

The term ‘Animal Assisted Therapy’ is relatively new; however, the use of animals to help people overcome illness and/or mental illness is not a new concept. Animal Assisted therapy has its roots that trace back to the ancient Greeks who were the first to use horses to lift the spirits of the severely ill. Between the 1600s and 1940s, mostly horses and farm animals were used to improve the physical and mental health of patients or veterans suffering from injuries.

Medieval Belgium marked the first use of pet animals for therapeutic purposes, where pets and people were rehabilitated together. The animals were used as a natural therapy for humans. In response to these practices, animal therapy came into the limelight, especially in academia. Consequently, there was a massive wave of informal experiments involving human interaction with animals to produce a calming effect on patients dealing with stress and anxiety.

The first formal research involving animal or pet therapy began in the 1960s with psychologists such as Dr. Boris Levinson finding the positive effect of his dog on mentally impaired young patients. With noticeable changes in human behavior when interacting with animals, animal-assisted therapy has become an integral part of today’s therapeutic purposes.

What are the Top 3 Animals Used as Therapy Animals?

  1. Dogs: A dog is the most ideal therapy animal serving in various facilities. Research suggests that dogs of larger breeds such as Golden Retrievers and Labradors help calm and relax people suffering from stress.
  2. Cats: Cats also serve as great therapy animals as they are easy to bring into indoor facilities. Cats are a better alternative for those who fear dogs and can bring calming effects to people living in assisted facilities.
  3. Horses: Horses as therapy animals are widely used in facilities such as veteran groups and addiction treatment centers, especially for mental health patients.

How Does Animal-Assisted Therapy Work?

Animal assisted therapy works based on several goals of the patient. The type of therapy and its target might also change based on the patient’s condition and the type of help they need. Some of the Animal assisted therapy goals include providing comfort, improving motor skills, reducing the levels of pain, developing social or behavioral skills, and motivating patients towards various activities such as exercise.

The person who handles therapy animals needs to be trained and work under a doctor’s guidance to help patients achieve their therapy goals. The animal as well as its handler also needs to go through various certifications before getting approval for therapy use.

What are the Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy?

Which disorders can be improved by animal-assisted therapy? How does animal therapy relieve stress? How therapy dogs can improve mental and physical health? The increasing worldwide popularity of animal-assisted therapy has also brought to the fore many questions regarding its benefits.

Physical Health Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy

  • Provides more comfort and relaxation, especially during exercise
  • Reduces overall physical pain
  • Lowers blood pressure and improves cardiovascular health
  • Balances breathing in people who are anxious
  • Helps reduce the number of medications for people
  • Helps with markers of physical conditions such as heart failure, epilepsy, pain from cancer treatment, postoperative treatment, and recovery from stroke or conditions that cause a person to lose motor skills
  • Aids in facilitating social interaction and improving mood and general well-being, especially in long-term elderly care facilities

Mental Health Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy

  • Increases mental stimulation and assists in the recall of memories
  • Lowers stress and anxiety which helps people relax more
  • Reduces loneliness and provides an escape or happy distraction
  • Accelerates the therapy process and reduces the initial resistance accompanying the therapy
  • Decreases perceptions of pain or feelings of fear or worry
  • Improves motivation, stimulation, and focus

Many studies have had promising results for various applications of animal-assisted therapy. As it gains high popularity, research has been underway to determine its effect on various chronic disorders such as dementia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and autism spectrum disorder (AST). Today, many animal lovers are aware that animal-assisted interventions can transform the lives of people. It is only a matter of time until academic literature more definitely proves the clinical values of animal companionship.

Fazlani Natures Nest provides an animal-assisted therapy program that is perfectly developed to ease emotional recovery and aid positive psychological transformation. Contact us to know more about the rejuvenating experience that we offer and come witness a mindful getaway at Fazlani Natures Nest.