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Pet Therapy: 7 Ways Animals Help Humans Heal

In some households, pets play an important role within the family dynamic. They oftentimes are nurturers, stress relievers, alarm clocks, protectors and motivation to get up, and get moving. Did you know that pets also play an important role in our health and wellness? Having a pet may be just the prescription needed to help cope with and cure illness, alleviate chronic pain, fight fibromyalgia, reduce stress and help children with disabilities.

Animal therapy describes a growing field that uses dogs and other animals to help people recover from, or better cope with health conditions such as heart disease, cancer, pain management and some physical and developmental disabilities. Animal-assisted activities can also serve a more general purpose, providing comfort, socialization and enjoyment for the elderly and individuals with depression and anxiety. Here are 7 ways your pet or a therapy animal may help you or one of your loved ones heal:

1. Cardiovascular Health

Owning a dog could help protect your heart. Research has shown a connection between dog ownership and reduced risk of cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels. A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that male dog owners were less likely to die within one year after a heart attack than those who did not own a dog. Additionally, studies have shown heart attack survivors and people with abnormal heart rhythms who own dogs live longer than people with the same heart problems.

2. Rehabilitation

Animal therapy is most thought of as a tool for rehabilitating people who have experienced prolonged hospitalization or physical ailments. Also, therapy animals can be of great assistance to help people perform everyday activities that would otherwise require the dependence of others. Other areas where animals have provided therapeutic assistance include:

  • Cancer treatment
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Chronic heart failure patients
  • Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Children with intellectual and developmental disabilities

3. Pain Management

Pet owners understand the stress relieving benefits and happiness that comes with caring for and bonding with an animal.

Studies conducted by the Research Center for Human/Animal Interaction have shown that interacting with animals can increase levels of the hormone oxytocin in the body. Oxytocin is a hormone that helps people feel happy and trusting. The hormone has powerful effects on the body’s ability to be in a state of readiness to heal and grow new cells.

4. Physical Activity

If you are a dog owner, you understand that look on their face the minute you walk through the door… excitement, exhilaration and the need to expend some physical energy! Walking the dog is just as important to the health of your family, as it is to the pet. Studies from the American Journal of Public Health and the American Journal of Preventive Medicine have shown that children with dogs spend more time doing physical activity than those without dogs, and adults with dogs walk almost twice as much as adults without dogs. Did you know that walking as little as 30 minutes each day can improve your health?

5. Benefits for Baby

Did you know that owning a pet not only decrease stress, helps with coping and improves pain management, but it also provides benefits to babies and youngsters in the household? Some studies have shown that babies raised in families with pets may be less likely to develop allergies and asthma – especially if the pet is in the home before children are 6 months old. Children with a pet in the home are also known to have fewer colds and ear infections during their first year.

6. Doctors

In addition to increased physical activity and reduced stress in households with pets, studies have shown that dog owners make fewer visits to their physician than non-dog owners. Interacting, playing and exercising with your pet may be just what the doctor ordered to stay physically fit, happy and to reduce pain.

7. Anxiety, Stress & Depression 

Chronic and acute pain sufferers know that it can take a toll on every aspect of your life. It can make getting through the day difficult from decreasing energy to affecting sleep.  Some clinical trials have shown that therapy animals, including dogs, cats, even rabbits, have helped reduce pain experienced in adults and children. A study from Loyola University found patients participating in pet therapy during recovery needed significantly less pain medication in some instances.

Are you interested in a form of pet therapy or pet-assisted activity? It’s always best to consult with your physician to get recommendations on what form of treatment or aid may be best for you.

How does your pet help you stay happy and healthy?