Pet Perks: The Science Behind Animal Therapy

Animals have been part of the fabric of human life for at least 15,000 years. Archaeological evidence indicates that the dog has been a herder and hunter along with humans since the Paleolithic era. The therapeutic value of this relationship cannot be overstated as research into animal assisted therapy indicates. Pet therapy is on the rise in the world as a way of helping people cope with stressful situations, and the science behind it shows some fascinating insights into the human character.


Animal Assisted Therapy

Therapists have long recognized the calming effect that animals have on their patients. Often nursing homes and rehabilitation hospitals will have therapy animals that will make the rounds of the wards on a regular basis because of the beneficial and healing effect that animal-human interaction provides. Therapy dogs are widely used with patients who have cognitive, motor, and emotional difficulties, providing patients independence and motivation to continue through painful therapies.


How Does Animal Assisted Healing Work?

Animal therapists are successful for the very same reasons people love them as pets: they are avid listeners who return unconditional love. In 2013, Washington State University studied the effects of shelter dogs on teens in alcohol and drug treatment. Interaction with dogs not only elevated patients’ mood, but also improved Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, ADHD, and depression. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, therapy dogs helped the children deal with trauma they had no words to express. National Geographic’s Amanda Fiegl reports that “part of what makes dogs special is that they are one of the only species that does not generally exhibit xenophobia, meaning fear of strangers”. For people who have been frightened out of their wits, like those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or for those dealing with grief and loss, simply having a non-judgmental confidant goes a long way to reestablishing emotional equilibrium.


Other Benefits of Animal Companions

Non-therapy animals also have a significant and positive impact on people. Many women who have been fearful and sleepless following a divorce find that having a dog sleeping in a crate in their bedroom significantly improves their sense of safety at home. Elderly people have reported that having a cat companion staves off loneliness, and wards off dementia. Having a walking companion can encourage those with Type 2 Diabetes to get out and exercise, improving not only their blood glucose levels but also their weight.


The benefits of human-animal interaction include improving mood and psychological state, assisting with mundane tasks, and providing comfort to those dealing with grief and loss. Needless to say, therapy animals are a critical ingredient in health and wellness. There is truly something about this connection which helps to heal.


“Brooke Chaplan is a freelance writer and blogger. After graduating from the Univerity of New Mexico she moved to Los Lunas where she now lives and works. She used and as resources when writing this article. Contact her via Twitter @BrookeChaplan.”