Pet therapy is a popular technique used in psychotherapy and rehabilitation medicine. As a rule, dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs or fish are resorted to for medicinal purposes. The purpose of such therapy is to accelerate the recovery of a patient with physical, mental or psychological disorders. Some particularly popular variations of zootherapy have received their own names. For example, treatment involving dolphins is dolphin therapy, horses – hippotherapy, cats – feline therapy, dogs – canister therapy.
Pet therapy is a popular technique used in psychotherapy and rehabilitation medicine. The name of this direction comes from the English pet therapy, where pet is a “pet”. Other names that are also often used when talking about this technique are therapy using animals, zootherapy, animal therapy. As a rule, dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs or fish are resorted to for medicinal purposes. The purpose of such therapy is to accelerate the recovery of a patient with physical, mental or psychological disorders. Some particularly popular variations of zootherapy have received their own names. For example, treatment involving dolphins is dolphin therapy, horses – hippotherapy, cats – feline therapy, dogs – canister therapy.
How it all started
The idea of using animals as part of the treatment process is not new. According to some reports, this practice was resorted to by the ancient Greeks, who discovered that animals, especially horses, are able to lift the spirits of seriously ill people.
The second wave of popularity of pet therapy (although at that time there was no question of such a name yet) swept through Europe in the XVII century. Then the doctors realized that after patients spend some time with horses, they feel better. This also applied to people with mental disorders, and with severe physical illnesses accompanied by severe pain.
One of the first people who became seriously interested in the topic of the healing effect of animals on humans was a public activist of Great Britain, Sister of Mercy Florence Nightingale. Soon the British woman had a lot of like-minded people. The era of scientific experiments and observations began, in which people with different types of disorders became participants. But still, the first person who officially began to develop pet therapy was the American child psychiatrist Boris Levinson. He found that in the presence of a dog, children with autism are easier to contact. By the way, modern doctors also agree that animals (even a small aquarium with fish) help to partially muffle the child’s fear of unpleasant procedures – whether it’s an injection or a dentist appointment.
What is modern pet therapy?
Those who first heard about this very extraordinary course in medicine probably want to know what pet therapy is. To begin with, it should be said that modern zootherapy includes two directions.
The first direction is called animal-associated therapy by Western experts. This is a method of treating patients with the involvement of animals in this process. With the help of this technique, patients are helped to recover from serious illnesses, improve or develop motor skills, and mitigate the symptoms of mental disorders. That is, it is a specific program for the treatment of various types of diseases.
The second direction of pet therapy in the West is known as animal-associated activity. It has a broader scope of the impact of animal energy on humans. The main function of this technique is to improve the emotional state of a person.
Who benefits from pet therapy
The theory of treatment with the use of pets is based on the previously existing connection between a person and an animal. Contact with friendly pets in many cases helps to improve a person’s physical and mental state.
This unusual method of treatment can be useful for a wide variety of disorders. Pet therapy is resorted to if the patient’s medical history has:
- cerebral palsy;
- post-traumatic stress disorder;
- high blood pressure;
- diseases of the cardiovascular system.
Also, zootherapy is advised to people who have experienced a stroke and are prone to depression (for example, against the background of cancer). Some animals help relieve pain, relieve stress, and improve the overall psychological state. Pet therapy can be useful for improving motor skills and coordination, increasing self-esteem, and developing social skills. This method is also resorted to in palliative medicine (care for patients who have no hope of a cure). As a rule, animals that are easy to train are involved in zootherapy. These are dogs, dolphins, horses and even pigs. And in some cases, even some types of rodents, lizards, donkeys, birds can be useful. By the way, American experts have discovered an interesting pattern: pet owners usually recover easier and faster after anesthesia, they are more socially active and, as a rule, live longer.
Pets also have a beneficial effect on the elderly – they help them cope with feelings of loneliness and prevent depression. They also weaken aggression, which can manifest itself in people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. In the West, the method of zootherapy is actively used in nursing homes. Elderly people who come into contact with animals are less likely to suffer from memory lapses and remain physically active longer.
Children also feel the benefits of pet therapy. Animals help them in learning, contribute to the development of cognitive abilities and strengthen memory.
How pet therapy works
The fact that friendly animals have a beneficial effect on humans has already been accepted by the scientific world. But scientists cannot yet explain the mechanism of pet therapy with accuracy, as well as why this technique helps some patients and not others.
Data from some studies indicate that animal observation increases the activity of the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This area is responsible for decision-making and social interaction.
In addition, pet therapy activates the production of endorphins. These hormones are responsible for the feeling of pleasure, and are also characterized by analgesic activity, soothe, improve mood, relieve anxiety and stress. By the way, normalization of blood pressure and improvement of the cardiovascular system, which are observed in some patients on the background of pet therapy, many scientists also associate with more active production of endorphins.
How different animals affect humans
It cannot be said that one or another type of animal has “medicinal properties” against a particular disease. The benefits of pet therapy are usually talked about generically, but still sometimes some animals may be more useful. For example, for people with limited mobility, calm and phlegmatic animals are better suited as “doctors”. If the task of zootherapy is to help cope with fear, depression, motivate to action, then more active animals are selected as a companion.
Scientific observations show that dog owners tend to live longer, their physical health is stronger, and their mental state is stable. It is believed that dogs reduce the risk of heart disease in their owners. And for those who have suffered a heart attack, these animals, as well as cats, help prevent a possible recurrence of the attack.
Dolphin therapy is one of the most popular trends of pet therapy. Interaction with this intelligent animal helps in the development of physical and emotional strength. Playing with a dolphin in the water requires certain movements from a person, that is, it also contributes to the development of physical strength. In addition, it has been proven that even watching dolphins has a calming effect on a person, visits to dolphinariums improve mood, help overcome depression and loneliness. Some experts say that dolphin therapy even helps to improve metabolism.
Feline therapy is usually resorted to when it is necessary to balance the emotional state and relieve stress. Observing the graceful movements of cats, as well as the special vibrations of their purring, help a person to relax, distract from anxious thoughts and calm down. But the theory that a cat always lies down on a sore spot and thereby heals, has not found scientific confirmation. Experts tend to think that if some cat lovers have pain relieved after contact with an animal, then this is rather a placebo effect. Although in some cases, a cat can play the role of a banal hot water bottle, which is useful for different types of pain.
Treatment by riding is called hippotherapy. This technique is often recommended for patients with cerebral palsy and some other neurological disorders, after a stroke or to eliminate the consequences of injuries. Riding a horse helps to develop physical strength, coordination and a sense of balance. In addition, horse lovers know that in order to establish contact with her, you need to constantly talk. From this point of view, hippotherapy helps people to restore speech and other social skills. Experts have noticed that horseback riding helps to manage anger, makes a person calmer, helps to increase self-esteem, and for some, blood pressure decreases after contact with a horse.
Knowing about pet therapy, it may seem that it is enough to get a pet to feel all the benefits of this method of treatment. But experts do not quite agree with this. In their opinion, the animal itself is not a medicine, and contrary to popular myths, the pet does not know who and how to “treat”. In order for pet therapy to give the expected therapeutic effect, treatment should be carried out under the supervision of a specialist. In addition, in cases of serious physical or mental disorders, zootherapy is not a self-sufficient treatment method, but only an auxiliary part of complex therapy.
For traditional pet therapy, which should bring a real therapeutic effect, only specially trained animals are chosen. Before becoming a “doctor”, a pet must undergo a veterinary examination and training, learn how to react correctly in certain moments:
- do not panic in unexpected situations;
- do not rush at a person, including a stranger;
- be socialized;
- have well-developed obedience skills;
- understand how to behave with children, people in wheelchairs or with crutches.
But even if the pet is not considered as part of therapy, the owner of the animal can still feel a certain benefit for his health. For example, if a person has a dog at home, it means that he will have to walk his pet regularly. And this is an additional and so useful physical activity for all systems. In addition, dogs, cats, fish, hamsters or parrots become personal psychotherapists for many owners: a person pours out his soul to an animal, talks about what he does not dare to talk about with other people. By the way, the American psychiatrist Eleanor Voloy even put forward the theory that the attitude of a pet to its owner is somewhat reminiscent of maternal love, which makes pet therapy unique.
Possible protipokazanie and harm
Regardless of what purposes an animal is needed for – to treat a disease or to improve mood, in any case, it is necessary to select a “pet doctor” with the help of a specialist and taking into account the state of health and characteristics of the patient’s body.
For example, if a person is afraid of dogs, then, of course, canister therapy is contraindicated for him. People with spinal injuries, even if they really like horses, can not engage in horseback riding. If a person suffers from a lack of close relationships or lacks warmth, then a turtle or fish in an aquarium is unlikely to help solve the problem. People with allergies are contraindicated in the neighborhood of cats, and people with neurological or mental disorders should not have animals that can be aggressive or timid. That is, pet therapy is all purely individual, the main thing is to listen to your feelings and the advice of specialists.
The success of pet therapy depends on many factors, including the realism of the goals set and the desire of the patient to improve well-being. But if zootherapy is carried out according to all the rules, following the recommendations of specialists, then there will definitely be no harm from it.