Animal Interaction – sources, health benefits at NaturalPedia.com

Friday, December 15, 2017 by

Animal interaction therapy, also called animal-assisted therapy (AAT), refers to the use of certified therapy animals as part of a therapeutic plan. Patients in hospitals or nursing homes often benefit from animal interaction, especially children and the elderly. While animals like horses and cats are trained as therapy animals, dogs are more commonly used for animal interaction therapy.

While humans have long recognized these animals as our constant companions, it was only in the 20th century that dogs and other animals were officially recognized for their therapeutic abilities. In 1976, Elaine Smith founded Therapy Dogs International, the first registry for therapy dogs in the U.S. In 1977, the Delta Foundation (later named Delta Society, now known as Pet Partners) was organized to spearhead research on the effects that animals have on our lives. Today, these two groups and many others, help provide therapy animals to people in need of animal interaction.

Health benefits of animal interaction

Animal interaction therapy teams involve a certified therapy animal and a trained handler. Therapy teams visit hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living centers, children’s homes and other similar facilities to lift the spirits of various patients and facilitate recovery.

Patients can walk therapy dogs, play with them, feed them or even groom them. Some therapy dogs are trained to sit quietly and pay attention while children read to them. Other therapy dogs may have their own disabilities or limitations, which can then inspire humans with similar disabilities.

Animal interaction therapy relies on the pre-existing human-animal bond. Spending time with a friendly pet can help patients deal with many physical and mental issues. Pet therapy can be used in many different ways. Defined objectives are crucial to this kind of therapy, and a patient’s progress will be recorded and tracked at structured sessions.

The goals of a pet therapy program can include:

  • Improving motor skills and joint movement
  • Improving assisted or independent movement
  • Increasing self-esteem
  • Increasing verbal communication
  • Developing social skills
  • Increasing willingness to join in activities
  • Improving interactions with others
  • Motivating willingness to exercise

Other benefits of pet therapy include:

  • Making patients happier, easing depression and improving their outlook on life
  • Decreasing loneliness and isolation by giving patients a companion
  • Reducing boredom
  • Reducing anxiety thanks to its calming effects
  • Helping children learn empathic and nurturing skills

Body systems supported by animal interaction

A group of researchers looked into the positive effects of animal interaction therapy on human patients and for this particular study, they compared the evidence from 69 original studies on human-animal interactions (HAI).

Only one study assessing parameters of the immune system met their inclusion criteria (sample size, peer-review and standard scientific research design). In 2004, Charnetski et al. disclosed that there was a significant increase in salivary immunoglobulin A (IgA), one indicator of good immune system functioning, in college students after stroking a live dog compared to those that were stroking a stuffed dog or sitting quietly for 18 minutes.

Where to learn more

Summary

Animal interaction therapy, also called animal-assisted therapy (AAT), refers to the use of certified therapy animals as a part of a therapeutic plan. Patients in hospitals or nursing homes often benefit from animal interaction, especially children and the elderly. Aside from horses and cats trained as therapy animals, dogs are more commonly used for animal interaction therapy.

Spending time with a friendly animal can help patients deal with many physical and mental issues. It can help reduce blood pressure and improve overall cardiovascular health. It can also release endorphins that can produce a calming effect, which can then help ease pain, reduce stress, and improve one’s overall psychological state.

Sources include:

TheSpruce.com

Healthline.com

NCBI.NLM.NIH.gov



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