How to make the most of pet therapy

Publié le 01 octobre 2009 par Phelicity
How to make the most of pet therapy
Animals — especially dogs — are being recognized as an important source of emotional and physical comfort, especially for the elderly and children. Could four-legged therapists help you or a loved one? Probably.

Since the 1970s, North American hospitals and long-term care, assisted-living and mental-health facilities have used Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) to help reduce feelings of isolation, loneliness or stress.
“Pet therapy” (as AAT is more commonly known) can involve almost any type of animal — usually dogs but sometimes cats, and even guinea pigs, rabbits, ferrets, pot-bellied pigs or birds.
How pet therapy works
Pet therapy can be used as an additional therapy for people in many different circumstances, including:

  • Elderly people in nursing homes

  • People suffering from a form of cognitive impairment

  • Palliative care patients

  • Chronically ill people (including children) who are hospitalized

  • Young people with mental health issues

For example, in a typical nursing home scenario, a pre-screened, certified therapy dog or cat will be brought to the facility by the owner, usually once or twice a week, at a scheduled day and time. During each visit, the pair may spend time with each person or room, usually for 10-30 minutes each. During that time, patients can feel, touch, pet, hold, cuddle and talk to the animal. Often, the mere presence or sight of the pet can bring a smile or a sense of joy.
In work with children, animals of various types provide an opportunity to develop empathy and improve self-esteem, ease the loneliness of hospitalization or provide a way to express emotion.
How pet therapy helps
The interaction with a pet provides an opportunity for patients to express affection and emotions and to enjoy the sense of touch. A pet’s unconditional love instills a sense of well-being and self-esteem in many patients.
Both anecdotal evidence and recent studies confirm the positive results of pet therapy, in people both young and old:

  • Caregivers report patients who participate in pet therapy talk, smile and socialize more, are more active, and eat and sleep better.

  • Patients often initiate conversation through contact with the pet, and the memories it may rekindle.

  • Through regular visits, patients often form a bond with the pet and with the volunteer.

  • Clients participating in pet therapy programs may require less medication than non-participants and may recover faster from surgery.

  • Interaction with dogs may increase levels of serotonin, a hormone that helps fight depression.

How to include pet therapy for healing
To benefit from pet therapy, patients should participate only to the degree they are comfortable and physically able. Some people take pleasure from simply seeing dogs walking around the hallways, while others love to cuddle with a small dog or cat.
If you know someone who is currently in a hospital or care facility and who could benefit from pet therapy:

  • Start by talking to their healthcare provider or administrator to find out if there’s a pet therapy program at that site.

  • If there is, check that the patient is in suitable health to participate.

  • If no program is currently available, talk to the administrator about the possibility of introducing one.

To find out what facilities in your area offer pet therapy, or to organize a program yourself, start by contacting an agency that screens pet therapy animals, such as St. John’s Ambulance or Therapeutic Paws of Canada.

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