Therapeutic Power of Animal-Assisted Therapy and the Science Behind it
It’s a proven fact that having pets can positively affect our well-being. A new study suggests that pet-therapy, also termed as animal-assisted therapy (AAT), can actually help in coping with serious ailments. In the simplest terms, it’s an intervention that deploys dogs, cats, horses, birds, and other animals as companions to supplement the outcomes of the conventional ways of treatment. This is particularly helpful when traditional therapies don’t do enough for the person with an ailment or disability.
Research has proved the benefits of pet therapy – which was first used way back in the 9th century. Boris Levinson, the ATT pioneer, was the first therapist to introduce role of animals in a therapeutic ecosystem. Levinson, in the 1960s, reported that the presence of his dog at the talk therapy sessions led to improved communication, increased self-confidence, and greater willingness to unveil difficult experiences. Since then, people have been looking up to pets for support and comfort during phases of emotional turmoil. Other benefits are acceptance, unconditional love, reduction in symptoms of depression or anxiety, and an addition of a “buddy” who gives a reason to wake up in the morning and boosts physical activity, which further leads to healthier lifestyles.
To be a pet is a plum gig! Pets are loved deeply, sometimes even more than humans: as per a 2015 Harris poll, about 95% of owners treat their pet as a member of the family. Several individuals have highlighted that having a pet has largely contributed in lowering their blood pressure, heart disease risk, and overall heart rate. Many others have reported substantial pain relief after taking part in therapy dog visits. In fact, in the last few years, more than ever, scientists have tried determining if the “pet effect” – being happier and healthier just by the grace of being a pet owner, or by communicating with an animal – is true. By and large, they’ve observed that pet owners are healthier, both mentally and physically, as compared to people without pets.
Let’s take a look at what science says about different animals.
In one of the experiments conducted years ago, kids were put in an uncomforting, stressful environment – one group had a friendly dog, and another had a friendly adult with them. The group with the dog indicated lower cortisol level. As they played more, their stress levels reduced drastically. Besides this, a study conducted in 2016 also highlighted that having a dog in the family helps autistic children with attention span, cooperation, and communication. In a lot of other cases, the dog’s presence calmed the child.
Among the most explored therapy animals, horses have been a part of medical treatment plans since the early 1800s. Tasks like leading and grooming a horse have proved to reduce PTSD symptoms in kids as well as adolescents.
In a study conducted with a group of adults, who were stressed-out or put in similar situations, were asked to pet a rabbit and its toy form. The ones caressing the rabbit, and not toy, showed great relief from anxiety. It helped well for people regardless of whether they initially claimed they liked animals.
Animals are known to grab people’s attention. When Alzheimer recipients dined in front aquariums featuring brightly-coloured fish, opposite to a facility centre, they were more happy, they ate more, and were less prone to wandering. They were also less lethargic and more attentive.
The positive results of pet therapy are endless and the same is the case with the number of conditions that can be treated with this form of treatment. Here, we’ve listed a few health problems that you can manage with the help of pet therapy:
- Emotional disorders
- Chronic pain
- Autism and behavioural disorders
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Dementia and Schizophrenia
- Developmental problems
And the list can go on. Here, what is worth noting is the keyword, “manage” and not “cure.” Without a doubt, your pet can help speed up the recovery time, but it shouldn’t be perceived as a substitute to traditional treatment.
Animal-assisted therapy involves many psychological and physical benefits. Let’s dive into the details and see how this therapy can improve our health.
Physical health benefits
- Decreases blood pressure
- Enhances cardiovascular health
- Minimizes risk of cardiovascular disorders or heart attack
- Reduces recovery time
- Decreases chronic physical pain
Mental health benefits
- Lowers stress levels
- Helps fight depression
- Improves problem-solving abilities
- Mitigates anger, aggression and hostility
- Improves attention
- Reduces isolation and loneliness
It is evident that the bond between animals and humans can stir miraculous healing effects. That’s exactly why pet therapy keeps getting popular and widely-accepted all over the world. And without a doubt, this is not taking place without a sound reason!