If you are an animal lover, simply spending time with your pet always feels good. After all, nothing compares to the unconditional love you get from a pet. While they keep you company, they can also improve your heart health, reduce stress, and even help children develop their emotional and social skills. There are more than 50,000 therapy dogs in the US, including emotional support canine companions, providing love and companionship to humans at home, in hospitals, and in other types of patient facilities. Across the world, animals are used as healing companions for people with various health conditions and disabilities, from cerebral palsy and cancer to post-traumatic stress disorder. So, what are the real benefits of therapy animals, and how can you get one?
A Human’s Best Friend
Animals have been offering humans companionship for centuries. In fact, it’s believed that dogs were the first animals domesticated by humans over 30,000 years ago. However, more recently, animals have been recognized as having significant therapeutic benefits for humans. There are numerous ways animals such as horses, cats, and dogs offer therapeutic benefits and even help people heal from psychological and physical problems. They are also being used increasingly to provide support, helping to calm anxiety and enable a person to regain peace and improve their quality of life. Therapy and emotional support animals can make a huge difference to the lives of a child or adult living with a disability or medical condition. We know that animals provide wonderful companionship, and their mere presence provides emotional support. Therapy animals can also help build responsibility and self-esteem, model good behavior, encourage social skills and help people manage anxiety and mood-related challenges. A therapy dog can be trained to alert other people to an event such as a seizure, guide a person who is blind or deaf, retrieve objects, pull a wheelchair, or provide physical support.
What Are Therapy Animals?
While any animal can provide comfort and support, animal therapy uses specially trained animals to help promote wellness and improve mood. For someone with disabilities, such as severe to mild cerebral palsy, therapy animals can be used at home, in therapy offices, or in hospitals to relieve stress and anxiety and encourage feelings of wellbeing. Dogs are the most popular therapy animal, but they can be any type of animal, such as horses, cats, rabbits, and guinea pigs. Hospital visits from animal therapy programs are increasingly popular in helping people feel comforted, relaxed, less anxious and generally make the hospital environment feel a little more like home. Certified therapy dogs usually belong to people who volunteer their time (and that of their pet) to help people feel better. Organizations such as the Alliance of Therapy Dogs test, certifies, registers, and insures these volunteers as they make visits to help others.
Animal Assisted Physical Therapy
Physical therapy has an important role in treating adults and children with cerebral palsy. Animals, typically dogs, can be trained to play a key part in these crucial therapy sessions. Working with animals makes physical therapy sessions less stressful and helps people feel more engaged and more likely to meet their goals. It can make all the difference to how much a person gets out of their session. Animals can also provide physical support, helping people perform exercises and generally motivate people to work harder during their sessions. Working with animals offers a variety of physical benefits, such as lowering heart rate and blood pressure, reducing pain, and improving cardiovascular health. Being around a therapy animal in a physical therapy session can increase the hormone serotonin and reduce cortisol, which means less stress in the body.
Any Animal Can Improve Your Health
While people with pets tend to experience more health benefits than those without, a pet doesn’t have to be a dog or cat. If you have limited space at home or are allergic to other animals, a rabbit or even a guinea pig could be ideal for snuggling up with. Meanwhile, birds are great for older adults as they can help keep the mind sharp. Even just watching fish swim around an aquarium can lower heart rate and reduce muscle tension. Regardless of the type of pet you have, pet owners are less likely to experience depression and have lower blood pressure, even in stressful situations. Stroking or simply touching a loving animal can rapidly soothe and calm a person who may feel stressed by elevating serotonin and dopamine levels in the body.
How To Get a Therapy Animal
If you are just looking for a suitable animal companion for yourself or a loved one, it’s a good idea to research breeds and visit with a few before deciding which best suits your needs. Alternatively, if you are looking for a trained service, they are more expensive due to their training. You may also need to have a home inspection to make sure you and your home are suitable. A few non-profit service animal providers may be able to provide you with a free or discounted service animal. It’s a good idea to try contacting 4 Paws for Ability, Assistance Dogs International or Paws for a Cause. If you don’t think you have the money, time, or ability to own a full-time pet, there are ways you can still experience the many benefits of being around animals. You can ask to walk your neighbor’s dog or even volunteer at a local animal shelter. Some shelters and rescue organizations offer pet rental programs to borrow a cat or dog for walks or play days. There’s the option of fostering an animal on a short-term basis until a permanent home is found for them.
Any pet-lover knows just how relaxing and soul-restoring it is to spend time with an animal, especially their own pet. But for a child or adult living with a disability such as cerebral palsy, animal therapy can make a powerful difference to their lives. It can transform the way they deal with the day-to-day challenges of their condition, improve their general outlook and help them find their smile again.