The Jack Russell Terrier, on the left, is Phoebe, my sister’s dog. I know it doesn’t look like it in the photo, but little Phoebe has endless energy and likes a lot of exercise and play. She is small at 38 centimetres (15 inches) to shoulder height, but muscular and strong. I like her Black and Tan coat and deep, dark, round eyes!
Pet therapy – or animal-assisted therapy – is any interaction with a pet animal. It can be formal or informal, guided (working with an animal handler, therapist, or medical practitioner) or non-guided. It can be with your own pet or someone else’s pet.
Traditional pet therapy is guided treatment (a set of goal-focussed sessions) with guinea pigs, horses, fish, dolphins, and any animal that can interact with a human to relieve stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as physical disorders. It is said to reduce blood pressure and improve heart health. Medical practitioners and hospitals use animal-assisted therapy, for example, for post-surgery patients, people undergoing chemotherapy, residents in long-term care facilities, people with chronic heart conditions, people with post-traumatic stress disorder, and stroke patients.
Healthline says the goals of a pet therapy program might include:
- improving joint movement
- improving assisted or independent movement
- increasing self-esteem
- increasing verbal communication
- developing social skills
- improving interactions with others
- increasing willingness to join in activities
- motivating willingness to exercise
- improving trust.
Structured pet therapy is designed to reduce depression, improve the outlook on life, decrease loneliness and isolation, reduce boredom, encourage empathy and nurturing tendencies, and improving relationships with the animal world.
Experts have a program of activities, usually with trained animals. People with their pets, in a sense, are undergoing therapy every day as they interact with their pets. Activities include playing (indoors and outdoors), going for walks, including the pet in everyday family tasks, communicating with them, and sitting thinking together.
Medical practitioners have also researched the act of petting animals on people’s health. The act of stroking and petting an animal is repetitive and soothing, and therefore, it reduces stress.
Different pets have different temperaments and personalities, and become like people to their owners. Pets are great companions for people of any age, and can provide a great deal of comfort, exercise, security, fun, and pleasure.
Any inanimate object, such as a doll or stuffed toy, can be a pet alternative. Even plants can be pet alternatives. In fact, anything that people can interact and communicate with – even if they don’t answer/interact back – can substitute for a pet.
The physical and repetitive act of petting and stroking is a soothing action and greatly beneficial to reduce anxiety and blood pressure. If you don’t have a pet, you can stroke your own arm for comfort.
The act of watching pet videos and films can be cathartic, especially comic ones. An article in The Washington Post in June 2020, indicated that psychologists confirmed the “feel-good” results of watching funny animal videos. They are mood-boosters that result in positive emotions, such as joy, hope, and love. They have also been shown to neutralise negative emotions, such as fear, anger, and disappointment, said Sonja Lyubomirsky, vice chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside. She said that watching funny animal videos can lead to creativity: ‘Positive emotions have this adaptive ability to help us explore, think about the bigger picture, and be creative.’
Pets can cause allergies in humans. Pets can be aggressive. Pets usually pass away during a human’s lifetime. Some people just don’t like pets, due to too much responsibility, not enough time and space to care for them, or due to past (and triggering) circumstances that may induce anxiety or fear. We can’t assume that everyone loves animals, or that they are comfortable around animals. Animals should not be forced upon people. Ideally, animals should choose their owner or the people they interact with.
Pet therapy, having a pet, and pet (play and nurture) activities, do not necessarily address core issues.
“Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet.” – Collette
“When I am feeling low all I have to do is watch my cats and my courage returns.” – Charles Bukowski
“A cat’s head rubbing your cheeks can give you a wonderful feeling, that of being loved and accepted.” – Tara Estacaan
DISCLAIMER: This website’s author does not dispense medical advice or prescribe the use of any technique as a form of treatment for physical, emotional, or medical problems without the advice of a physician or psychologist, either directly or indirectly. Therefore, information provided here is not intended to replace readers’ existing or other medical, psychological, financial, or legal advice. The author’s intent is to offer general information to help readers in their quest for emotional, physical, and spiritual wellbeing, guidance towards self-empowerment, and/or for entertainment purposes only. Rainy Day Healing and Martina Nicolls shall not be held accountable for any loss which may arise from any readers’ reliance and implementation of any information provided. For information on courses and personal consultations, see TERMS AND CONDITIONS.