A Companion Animal as a Form of Therapy
Animals are affectionate, playful and loving. For this reason, pets are becoming increasingly recognised as a therapy for adults and children recovering from illnesses and injuries, or for those with physical, mental, emotional conditions or disabilities. This makes both the animals and human happy, just like the famous quote “Happiness is only real when shared”!
How do animals help?
Animals are affectionate, playful and loving. They provide unconditional friendship and a positive experience for patients, which is particularly important for children. Animals assist in other ways when part of a therapy program:
– Create bonds and companionship
– Non-verbal communication allows people with autism or other learning difficulties to interact and this often improves their communication and social interaction skills with other people
– Encourage expression, communication and language
– Reduce stress and anxiety, leading to calm and relaxed situations and better health and learning outcomes
– Give social and emotional support
– Enhance mood and quality of life
– Regular contact can improve and maintain movement and cognitive function, especially when patients are asked to exercise, care and groom animals
– Assist with overcoming depression
– Encourage activity, exercise and play
– Provide social and mental stimulation
– Can raise self-esteem amongst those with disabilities
– Distract patients from their illness or condition
– Reduces feelings of isolation
Where is the therapy applied?
The goal is to improve a patient’s wellbeing, quality of life and social interaction. There is no doubting the success of animals in this regard. However, more empirical research is needed to measure the effects of animals on long-term medical and learning improvements and the cognitive function of patients.
Research has shown that animal therapy has benefitted children with autism, Down syndrome, attention deficit disorders or learning difficulties as well as people who are recovering from stroke, those with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and with depression or anxiety.
Particularly in relation to Alzheimer’s disease, autism and learning disorders where frustrations and stress hamper behaviour and mood, animals help calm patients and reduce aggression.