There is no doubt that animals can have an extraordinary influence on us. Both in the home and in clinical settings animals provide comfort and affection. The benefits of the animal human bond has been widely studied. In fact, Human Animal Bond Research Initiative has documented numerous studies about the animal and human bond. This connection has profound psychological and physiological benefits, including lower anxiety, improved mood, reduced blood pressure, and an enhanced well-being.
Therapy Animals are often brought into hospital settings because of the widely recognized benefits they bring to patients. Studies have demonstrated that therapy dogs improved outcomes with patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and many other health conditions.
For those struggling with depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), animals provide practical and emotional support. Emotional Support Animals are pets that provide emotional support to those with a mental illness, such as an anxiety, depression or PTSD.
Service Animals are typically dogs that have been trained to perform specific behaviors for people with disabilities, such as seizure disorder. The dogs are trained to recognize the symptoms of a seizure and respond with certain helpful behaviors. Additionally, they keep their handler calm during times of stress. Service Animals are working animals and are given more access to public and private areas.
Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is an animal focused therapeutic intervention performed by a trained professional. These professionals are typically from the health and human services sector and may include psychologists, counselors, physicians, or physical therapists. AAT has been integrated into multiple settings, including libraries, treatment facilities, and schools. Many therapy dogs, for example, are used to help children with disabilities. The nonjudgmental companionship of an animal allows many children the courage to explore and engage in their environment. Equine Assisted Therapy uses horses to provide therapeutic healing and engagement to individuals who experience psychological and physiological impairments. For more information about AAT, visit Pet Partners.
Despite the type of animal, however, many of us have experienced the profound mental and phyisical benefits of animals. If you are feeling especially down today, give your pet a hug! Studies have shown that just hugging your pet increases oxytocin, the connection or “love” hormone, and reduces cortisol levels.
Allen, K., Shykoff, B. E., & Joseph L. Izzo, J. (2001). Pet ownership, but not ACE inhibitor therapy, blunts home blood pressure responses to mental stress. Hypertension, 38, 815-820.
Harper CM, Dong Y, Thornhill TS, et al. Can therapy dogs improve pain and satisfaction after total joint arthroplasty? A randomized controlled trial. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research® 2014;473(1):372-79.
Marcus DA, Bernstein CD, Constantin JM, et al. Impact of Animal-Assisted Therapy for Outpatients with Fibromyalgia. Pain Medicine 2013;14(1):43-51.
O’Haire ME, McKenzie SJ, Beck AM, Slaughter V (2013). Social Behaviors Increase in Children with Autism in the Presence of Animals Compared to Toys. PLoS ONE 8(2): e57010. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057010