About Pet Therapy

Pet Therapy

Pet therapy, or animal-assisted therapy (AAT), uses trained animals and handlers to achieve specific physical, social, cognitive and emotional goals with patients and students. Studies show that physical contact with a pet lowers blood pressure, improves survival rates for heart-attack victims and releases endorphins, chemicals in the body that suppress pain. This makes therapy dogs ideal for use in patient settings.

Therapy dogs encourage patients to practice rehabilitation activities, such as walking or running with the animal or throwing objects for the animal to retrieve. Fine motor skills are developed by petting, grooming, or feeding the animal, and patients are more likely to interact whether giving the animal verbal and physical commands or talking about past pets. All of these activities can help develop cognitive skills and communication and make a major difference in the patient’s comfort, progress and recovery.

Pet therapy can also occur as animal-assisted activities (AAA), which are motivational and educational rather than goal-directed. Hospital visits, nursing home visits, and elementary dog safety seminars are examples of these types of pet therapy visits.   

Standards for the training of the volunteers and their animals are crucial in order to promote a safe, positive experience. Animals that have been appropriately trained are well socialized to large groups of people, other animals, medical equipment and odors.

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