The use of animals in medical setting dates back more than 150 years. Even Florence Nightingale recognized the influence of animals for the mentally ill. AAT or Assisted Animal Therapy is the name given to this.
Interaction with pets has been scientifically proven to increase physical and mental health. It helps people relax and releases endorphins (oxytocin) – happy hormones [Research by Mussouri College of Veterinary Medicine].
Animal interaction also helps in physical therapy and improves children’s reading skills. The bond with the pet was positively related to empathy and social competence as in research done by Poresky and Hendrix. Overall it helps in social, emotional or cognitive therapy.
The list below shows benefits of pet therapy:
– improvement of social attention, behavior, interpersonal interaction, and mood
– reduction of stress-related parameters such as cortisol (imbalance in adrenalin glad), heart rate, and blood pressure
– reduction of self-reported fear and anxiety
– improvement of mental and physical health, especially cardiovascular health.
– reduction of stress-related parameters such as epinephrine and norepinephrine
– improvement of immune system functioning
– improved pain management
– increased trustworthiness of and trust toward other persons
– reduced aggression
– enhanced empathy and
– improved learning.
The happy hormone – oxytocin improves the body’s ability to be in the state of readiness to heal and helps grow new cells. Basically it creates an environment in our body that is conducive of healing.
Many child psychologists use animal in their sessions as it helps to go under the radar of a child’s consciousness, because children are much more at ease and are more willing to reveal their fears.
Furthermore, US military veteran returns from Afghanistan and Iraq are sent to provide shelter dogs basic obedience training. This helps the veterans readjust to being at home – somewhat like a rehabilitation.
Animals like dogs, cats, bird, dolphins and horses have become popular ‘co-therapists’ used by psychologists, speech therapists, nursing homes, schools, hospitals mental institutes and even jails.
As per Wikipedia – if we see animals at rest or in a peaceful state, this may signal to us safety, security and feelings of well-being which in turn may trigger a state where personal change and healing are possible.
Credits and Further Reading:
1. >Paws for People
2. Differential effects of pet presence and pet-bonding on young children.
Poresky RH, Hendrix C
3. Psychosocial and Psychophysiological Effects of Human-Animal Interactions: The Possible Role of Oxytocin by Andrea Beetz, Kerstin Uvnäs-Moberg, […], and Kurt Kotrschal
4. CBS News, Elephants Help Autistic Children in Thailand