Last Updated on January 24, 2022 by Dogs Vets
Therapy Dogs Can Improve Mental And Physical Health
Just 10 minutes of petting therapy animals can significantly relieve students’ stress, a study by researchers at Washington State University found.
Moreover, therapy dogs can also improve the cognitive skills of stressed college students for weeks after participation in petting programs — even more so than other campus stress management options.
Dog therapy, a type of animal therapy, uses dogs to help people with mental or physical health issues. By providing emotional support, therapy dogs can play a key role in individual treatment plans.
What is dog therapy?
Animal therapy is designed to help people either cope with or alleviate altogether various symptoms of mental or physical health conditions. It’s designed to work alongside other treatments, rather than be a replacement.
Therapy dogs essentially draw upon the human-animal bond, which involves the human desire to connect with and relate to animals.
By spending time with a therapy dog, you bond with them, which in turn has numerous health benefits, including socialization; pain relief; decreased boredom and loneliness; improved movement or motor skills; boosted mood; increased physical activity; and decreased stress.
DEPENDING ON THE UNIQUE CONDITION AND NEEDS OF THE INDIVIDUAL, ANIMAL THERAPY CAN BE TAILORED TO MEET DIFFERENT GOALS.
During a typical animal therapy session, a human handler works with the dog and patient, under a doctor’s guidance, to help the patient meet the particular goals of their therapy.
It’s also important to note that therapy dogs are different to service dogs. Service dogs are specifically trained to help people navigate life with a disability.
Therapy dogs, on the other hand, simply provide comfort and attention. Unlike service dogs, they’re not covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act, which means owners generally can’t bring therapy dogs into restricted public areas.
Who can therapy dogs help?
Animal therapy can help people with a broad range of mental or physical health conditions. For example, therapy dogs can be used to help children with cerebral palsy, a common childhood motor disorder.
In particular, therapy dogs can be involved in the process of physical therapy, which is one of the main cerebral palsy therapies.
By working with a therapy dog, children with cerebral palsy can receive physical support as they perform exercises to rehabilitate muscles and the musculoskeletal system. Dogs also typically motivate children to put in the work to meet their goals for treatment and make the sessions more enjoyable and less stressful.
Moreover, therapy dogs have also been found to improve numerous key markers of stress and anxiety by decreasing feelings of anxiety and stress; lessening perceptions of pain; increasing social support; and providing motivation, engagement, and focus.
In turn, these factors indicate therapy dogs can be beneficial for a host of mental health conditions, including depression; anxiety; autism spectrum disorder; dementia; and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Additionally, research also shows therapy dogs can also potentially help reduce the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Additionally, people in long-term care facilities may also benefit from therapy dogs. In fact, some facilities offer animal therapy programs designed to improve the mood and wellbeing of patients.
A study in Psychogeriatrics, for example, found therapy dogs used in long-term elderly care facilities helped decrease symptoms of depression. By increasing social interaction, the therapy dogs generated positive emotional responses in the patients.
Therapy dogs and physical health
Therapy dogs can also be used to improve the symptoms of a number of physical health conditions, such as, heart failure, epilepsy, and pain and discomfort caused by cancer treatment. They can also play a positive role in a patient’s recovery after an operation or stroke that results in diminished motor skills.
By working with a therapy dog, the patient becomes more motivated to complete their therapy sessions, exercise more often, and move correctly (which is beneficial for people with physical health conditions). Therapy dogs can also help lower signs of pain.
What about the risks?
Although therapy dogs can be hugely beneficial for people with a variety of health issues, it’s important to note they’re not always the right option for everyone. Firstly, some people are actually afraid of or uncomfortable with dogs.
DOG THERAPY CAN THEREFORE END UP CAUSING THESE INDIVIDUALS GREATER STRESS AND ANXIETY.
Secondly, many people are allergic to animals, which means a dog therapy session can worsen uncomfortable allergy symptoms. And, animals may also be unable to enter some hospitals or similar long-term care facilities as they may be carriers of certain diseases or infections.
In some cases, however, therapy dogs may be allowed to enter as long as they go through comprehensive testing beforehand.
THERAPY DOGS CAN BE USED TO HELP PEOPLE IMPROVE BOTH THEIR MENTAL AND PHYSICAL HEALTH.
By being incorporated into a comprehensive treatment plan, therapy dogs can boost mood and wellbeing while decreasing pain and anxiety in people with a number of health conditions.
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