As a pet lover, you know your pet makes you happy. But you may be surprised to hear that science agrees that those warm feelings can lift your mood and even lower your blood pressure!
In fact, the positives are such that pets are now invited into all sorts of therapy settings, such as hospitals, to soothe and calm the patients. There’s even a name for it: “pet therapy.”
Pet therapy is a catch-all term for incorporating animals in all sorts of therapeutic ways. One example you may be familiar with is therapy dogs. These dogs have participated in a special therapy dog training program to assess their disposition; teach them a variety of commands; and otherwise prepare them for visiting nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and other public places.
Pets in the Hospital
According to Time magazine, “Though the studies are small, the benefits are impressive enough that clinical settings are opening their doors to animal-assisted interventions–pet therapy, in other words–used alongside conventional medicine. ‘It used to be one of the great no-no’s to think of an animal in a hospital,’ says Alan Beck, director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University, citing the fear of causing infection. ‘Now, I don’t know of any major children’s hospital that doesn’t have at least some kind of animal program.’”
Hospitals often create anxiety for the sick and their families, and therapy dogs offer a perfect opportunity to forget those problems for a few minutes and pet the soft fur. It’s hard not to feel better when you interact with a well-behaved dog.
The Mayo Clinic explains how visits with therapy dogs work: “Imagine you're in the hospital. Your doctor mentions the hospital's animal-assisted therapy program and asks if you'd be interested. You say yes, and your doctor arranges for someone to tell you more about the program. Soon after that, an assistance dog and its handler visit your hospital room. They stay for 10 or 15 minutes. You're invited to pet the dog and ask the handler questions.
After the visit, you realize you're smiling. And you feel a little less tired and a bit more optimistic. You can't wait to tell your family all about that charming canine. In fact, you're already looking forward to the dog's next visit.”
Mental Growth as Part of Mental Health
Of course, therapy dogs aren’t limited to hospitals and nursing homes. Some of them help children learn to read.
As Therapy Dogs International explains, “The main objective of this program is to provide a relaxed and ‘dog-friendly’ atmosphere, which allows students to practice the skill of reading. Many of the children chosen for this program have difficulties reading and as a result have developed self-esteem issues. They are often self-conscious when reading aloud in front of other classmates.
By sitting down next to a dog and reading to the dog, all threats of being judged are put aside. The child relaxes, pats the attentive dog, and focuses on the reading. Reading improves because the child is practicing the skill of reading, building self-esteem, and associating reading with something pleasant.”
Pets Boost the Mental Health of Their Owners, Too
As a pet owner, you know your pets put a smile on your face, but you may not realize the deeper health benefits. Dogs promote exercise, which is great physically and mentally, while both dogs and cats offer the benefits of petting, which reduces anxiety.
Mental Health.org says, “Pets are also a great motivator for people. Dogs especially are great at encouraging owners to get exercise, and this can be beneficial for those suffering from depression. Pets can also have calming effects on their owner. Just by stroking, sitting next to or playing with a pet,” pet owners get “a chance to relax and calm their minds. Caring for a pet also gives your day purpose and reward, and a sense of achievement. It also helps you feel valuable and needed.”
Add the mental benefits of pet companions with the physical benefits - lower blood pressure, and less risk of heart attack - and it’s a winning combination! Why not give your pet an extra belly rub today?!
And if you have any questions regarding your beloved furry friends, as always, feel free to contact us!