What is a therapy animal?

Do you know how beneficial owning a therapy animal can be?

Find out in this article and see if a therapy animal could benefit you…

 
There are thousands of animal lovers throughout the UK who own different pets, or even lots of pets. But not everyone knows how beneficial owning an animal can be.

In fact, pets can bring so much joy to someone’s life that they are often used in therapy.

There are thousands of animal lovers throughout the UK who own different pets, or even lots of pets. But not everyone knows how beneficial owning an animal can be. In fact, pets can bring so much joy to someone’s life that they are often used in therapy.

You may have heard the term therapy animal before, this isn’t to be confused with a service dog.

 

What is a therapy animal?

A therapy animal has been obedience trained and screened for its ability to interact favourably with humans and other animals. The main purpose of these animals is to provide affection and comfort to people who need it.

dog therapy animalIt isn’t just dogs that provide this kind of therapy, any animal can work as a therapy pet as long as it is registered.

Animal therapy is a recognised therapeutic technique which facilitates the counselling process. It is used to help decrease stress and anxiety as well as motivating patients. Using animal assisted therapy as part of a treatment plan has a variety of benefits, especially when touching and tending to animals. It helps with:

• Depression

• Anxiety and stress

• Loneliness

• Poor sleep patterns

• Grief, and many more

One of the first people to use a therapy animal was Sigmund Freud. He used them to aid progress and communication. Child psychotherapist Boris Levinson also began using his dog in therapy sessions when he found more people opened up when his dog was in the room.

Therapy animals often come under three different categories. These are:

Therapeutic Visitation

This is the most common classification. They tend to be household pets whose owners take them to visit other facilities. They help people who are away from home and may be missing their own pets. It often lifts spirits and brightens their day.

Animal assisted therapy 

These usually work in rehabilitation facilities. They help physical and occupational therapists to encourage clients to meet their goals. This can be gaining motion in limbs, fine motor control, or regaining pet care skills.

This is being used a lot now in care and nursing homes.

Facility Animals

Finally, facility therapy animals primarily work in nursing homes and are often trained to help keep patients with Alzheimer’s disease or other mental illnesses from getting into trouble.

 

Dogs are most commonly used as therapy animals and studies have shown that petting dogs helps to release a hormone called Oxytocin which makes us feel happy and trusting. Petting your own dog can also help to reduce blood pressure.

Therapy dogs can give reassurance, calm those who are distressed, provide companionship for the lonely, focus the confused, bring balance to a sensory overload to name a few benefits. There are many websites where you can find a therapy dog near you or offer yours as a therapy dog, such as Therapy Dogs UK.

 

Other types of therapy animals

Cats and rabbits are also commonly used as therapy pets, possibly due to their size, meaning that users can pet, stroke and cuddle the animal if it makes them feel better.

horse therapy animalAubrey Fine a clinical psychologist and professor at California State Polytechnic University works with troubled children, uses dogs in his practice. He has also been known to use a cockatoo and even a bearded dragon named Tweedle.

He has been quoted to said: “One of the things that’s always been known is that the animals help a clinician go under the radar of a child’s consciousness, because the child is much more at ease and seems to be much more willing to reveal.”

Horses have also become popular animals to act as co-therapists for people with disabilities, this is due to their personalities, as they are social animals with a sensitive nature. Horses can help someone mentally as they build a connection when riding and maintaining the animal but they can also help physically from the movement and balance needed to ride a horse. Patients also often benefit from being outside in natural surroundings.

Now if you ever needed an excuse to go home and curl up with your pet, you have one – you are working on your mental well-being!