Man’s best friend and medicine: a pet therapy dog! A growing amount of scientific evidence suggests that these "paw-fully" cool pet therapy benefits help to improve total body health and quality of life for children and adults coping with a full range of health problems.
Physical Benefits of Pet Therapy
Animal companionship can be a natural source of comfort and relief for those experiencing physical side effects related to illness or disease. In fact, many individuals who opt for animal assisted therapy report improved physical health and faster recovery. Other important pet therapy benefits include:
1. Lowers blood pressure by reducing anxiety and stress associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
2. Lessens overall physical pain. Animal assisted therapy helps release endorphins that manipulate perceptions of pain or stress.
3. Reduces fatigue, a common side effect of treatment or illness.
4. Improves fine motor skills and recovery time. Playing with and petting animals emits important hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain that promote proper body function and rebuild strength.
5. Motivates willingness to be active. Taking your exercise buddy on a 30-minute walk each day will keep you moving and help you meet the minimum recommendations for healthy physical activity.
Emotional Benefits of Pet Therapy
Along with physiological health benefits, animal assisted therapy is used as a natural mood enhancer. It only takes a few moments of petting and playing with a dog or cat to feel less anxiety and stress. Pet therapy can improve a person’s emotional health in the following ways:
6. Lifts spirits and lessens depression. Pet therapy increases the body’s level of oxytocin, which boosts happiness, improves empathy and promotes a happier life.
7. Reduces patient anxiety and stress by lowering the level of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, in the body and increasing serotonin, a chemical associated with well-being.
8. Improves self-esteem. A bond between a pet and human is one of unconditional love, which can teach and support feelings of self worth and value, especially in children.
Social Benefits of Pet Therapy
Patients facing long-term hospitalization or chronic disease or disability are more susceptible to feelings of social isolation or alienation. Pet therapy is used to foster emotional connection for patients in a number of ways:
9. Decreases feelings of isolation and loneliness in those who may feel like detaching from normal social activity.
10. Increases communication by providing the opportunity to interact with pet and owner.
11. Improves focus and attention, especially in young children. Pet therapy is a great way to release excess energy for better concentration and heightened social awareness.
12. Enhances calmness and relaxation. The sensory stimulation involved in animal companionship can help to calm and relax individuals in new social environments.
Pet therapy can promote total body wellness in children and adults. To learn how to get involved with UnityPoint Health - Des Moines’ pet therapy volunteer program for patients and families staying at Iowa Methodist Medical Center, Blank Children's Hospital and Iowa Lutheran Hospital, visit our Animal Assisted Therapy webpage today.