Some people are dog people and others are cat people, whilst others still aren't "pet people" at all. But did you know that pet therapy is a legitimate type of therapy with many varied benefits. More and more it is being used to support the elderly in aged care facilities. So, let's start at the start.
What is pet therapy?
Pet therapy – also known as animal-assisted therapy (AAT) – involves guided treatment between a person and a trained animal with the intention of improving their physical or mental state. It usually includes our favourite furry friends – dogs and cats (so cute) – but can also include rabbits, guinea pigs or horses. Whatever floats your boat, really.
Pet therapy sessions primarily occur in aged-care facilities and hospitals, but they’re also run in a wide range of environments including schools, health clinics and workplaces.
How does pet therapy work?
Pet therapy works differently for everyone. It’s usually suggested by a doctor or therapist, and sessions can vary depending on the person and animal involved – so no two pet therapy experiences are the same.
The therapy animal is typically chosen for the individual based on characteristics such as their physical capabilities and emotional needs, as well as the animal’s temperament and compatibility with the person. The chosen animal is always accompanied by their trainer, because #SafetyFirst.
Therapy sessions can be run for individual patients or in small or large groups. These sessions can help stimulate the release of hormones like serotonin and oxytocin. Those hormones are responsible for inducing relaxation and calm, reducing anxiety and depression, and helping to balance emotions.
What are some benefits of pet therapy?
There are many mental and physical benefits elderly people can experience when they undertake pet therapy. They include:
- Improved motor skills and joint movement
- Improved independent or assisted mobility
- Increased willingness to exercise
- Advancement in general autonomy.
Sessions can also be incredibly comforting when elderly people are struggling with loneliness or mental illness, and research has shown that those suffering from dementia are able to better express themselves and communicate thanks to the calming effects of pet therapy.
If you have young kids (or grandkids) who don’t know how to tread gently with their ageing grandparents, pet therapy can provide them with an enjoyable way to learn about empathy and care.
Who is pet therapy for?
Pet therapy is for anyone and everyone – the elderly, and the young. It’s especially helpful for those experiencing mental illness, those grappling with stress, individuals struggling to manage chronic illness or the ageing process, or those dealing with grief.
Pet therapy can be incredibly valuable for people of all ages, but is especially beneficial for Australia’s ageing population. If you’re interested in learning more about pet therapy, talk to your doctor or therapist to see if pet therapy might be the right fit for you or someone you love.