Pet-therapy or animal assisted therapy is a form of therapy that involves the use of animals for treatment. It is a guided interaction between a trained animal and human. The goal of pet therapy is to improve the patient’s emotional, social and cognitive functioning. In the recent times, it is one of the most popular ways to help someone cope with mental disorder or health problem. Generally, pet therapy is done using cats or dogs. However, other animals such as fish, guinea pigs, horses, etc. that meet a certain criteria are also used. But, at the end of the day, it depends on the patient’s treatment plan on what kind of animal he/she will choose.
Animal Assisted therapy has a formal plan of sessions and a goal for each session that the patient and the pet will have to meet through a guided interaction. Sometimes, pets are also used for increasing the trust of a patient in a therapist as a therapist who enters with a pet is seen as less threatening, and is better at understanding.
Pet therapy can benefit a wide-range of mental problems such as children going through dental procedures, people undergoing cancer treatment, people in long-term care facilities (prison, mental health institutions), people hospitalized with chronic heart failure, people with post-traumatic disorder, people undergoing high levels of stress and anxiety, people undergoing depression, people with temperament issues, children with mental retardation, children with ADHD, autistic children, dementia, etc.
Different animals have different issues that they can help the patient deal with. For example, in a recent study it has been found that activities like grooming a horse and taking it around the pen have shown to reduce PTSD symptoms in children and early adolescents. Dogs are one of the most commonly used animals for pet-therapies as they are considered a man’s best friend. Dogs help with the treatment of children showing the symptoms of Down Syndrome or mental retardation. Children suffering with these are found to be slow learners due to slow processing in the brain as well as anxiety issues. Dogs have found to reduce these anxiety levels and make the children more comfortable in that particular environment. Once, when a group of highly stressed individuals were given kittens to pet, it has been observed that the stress levels have gone down of at least 50% and most of the people who entered the room with a dull face were smiling by the end of the petting session. However, when the same was tried on toys, it didn’t work and a consensus has been drawn that petting living things, hard-shelled or fluffy helps in relief from anxiety and stress at a great amount.