Animal assisted therapy (AAT) can help individuals recover from or better cope with health difficulties. This form of treatment is not just limited to dogs and cats but can include a variety of animals: horses, rabbits, and even dolphins. Individuals can experience many benefits that assist with numerous health issues. Here is a list of how animals can support both mental and physical conditions:
Mental Health Disorders
Animal assisted therapy could effectively treat various mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Interacting with animals can provide comfort, reduce feelings of isolation, and distract from distressing symptoms. The simple act of stroking a pet releases endorphins, promoting a sense of calm and well-being.
Animals in a therapy setting can also assist individuals in connecting more authentically with their therapists. They act as catalysts in the therapeutic process, helping to release serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin. This stress-reducing response can promote open communication.
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has many treatments, but working with animals can help encourage social interactions and promote social facilitators. Those who struggle with new or daily interactions might gain more positive experiences with the assistance of a trained therapy animal.
There are various options: horses, dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, fish, and more. Each animal has a unique sensory support and specific temperament that helps stabilize an emotional state for individuals. Children who struggle with ASD find they relate more to the animal, which helps improve communication and engagement in therapy sessions.
Animals can encourage individuals to engage in physical activities such as walking or playing. Training a dog, for example, to respond to commands helps individuals practice their fine motor skills and improve their cardiovascular health. After petting a dog for 20 minutes, there is an increase in salivatory immunoglobulin A, which is a boost for healthy immune system function. The release of oxytocin also increases the pain threshold and allows for faster recovery.
Cognitive or neurocognitive disorders affect cognitive abilities, including memory, learning, problem-solving, and perception. The presence of an animal can stimulate memory recall and encourage social interaction, which can be particularly beneficial for those experiencing social withdrawal due to their condition.
Uncommon animals, such as birds or fish, are more common to support this type of health condition. They can provide comfort and companionship, and their presence helps reduce agitation, improve mood, stimulate memory recall, and increase nutritional intake. Watching fish swim around in a tank stimulates visual tracking and promotes the overall health for cognitive abilities.
Substance Abuse and Addiction
Individuals struggling with substance abuse or addictions can use this therapeutic practice to recover by taking responsibility for an animal. It provides a predictable routine–feeding, grooming, basic hygiene care, and keeping an individual focused on recovery. Commitment to this process helps give a sense of purpose and structure.
Not every animal will fit every need, and when selecting a suitable companion, it’s best to connect with healthcare providers to fulfill specific requirements. Whether the animal is immunized and disease-free or if the temperament and behavior is a right fit. Handlers can help provide this information, discover the right animal for recovery, and avoid specific allergies.
Enjoy the Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy
Animal assisted therapy can offer a unique and practical approach to treating physical and mental health conditions. It can be considered a complementary treatment rather than a standalone solution, while other health concerns may require medication or assisted physical therapy. Always consult with healthcare professionals before starting any new type of treatment. The uniqueness of animal therapy lies in its ability to provide comfort, joy, and therapeutic benefits.