Different Therapy Pets and Their Benefits to Humans

therapy animal

Not so long ago, the concept of animal therapy and the usage of therapy pets were relatively obscure. Although any pet owner can speak to the benefits of having a pet, therapy pets were not thought to be legitimate therapy techniques because there was little science that backed those benefits. However, there was also no science that disputed the benefits, and up until recently there were very few actual studies and research into the benefits of animal therapy.

But now more scientists are beginning to look into these techniques, and the benefits that are clear to pet owners are finally being used in a more clinical way. Although most of the studies are still small, they have been meaningful enough for the medical world to take notice and begin using these strategies as legitimate mental health treatments.

Some of the main benefits of having therapy pets include the social support they provide. This type of social support is a well-known solution for loneliness and sadness, but it was only recently that scientists realized the support may not necessarily have to come from other humans. In fact, a recent Harris poll showed that 95% of pet owners consider their animals as family members, and pets can provide a type of support and companionship that may be lacking from the lives of some.

One interesting element of recent studies into pet therapy was research into non-traditional pets. Most people generally think of a pet as a dog, cat or other common household animal, but these do not necessarily have to be the animals used in therapy. Although dogs and cats have been proven to have mental and physical benefits to their owners, other animals can be beneficial as well– even some without fur. Here are a few of the animals that have recently been studied and a few of the proven benefits behind their therapy:

Dogs

We will start with the most common and unsurprising pet therapy animal. Dog ownership has been shown to reduce loneliness and stress, as well as improve the overall mood of the owner. In addition to these mental benefits, owning a dog can provide physical advantages such as reduced blood pressure, increased exercise and better overall physical health.

Horses

Perhaps the fastest growing school of pet therapy involves the usage of horses. These elegant, beautiful animals have a long history with humans, even dating back to prehistoric times. Their usage in medical and therapy settings have also been in place for longer than most would expect, and the first medical treatment with horse therapy dates back to the 1860s. They do not even have to be ridden to have an impact; grooming and leading a horse around a pen have been shown to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety and PTSD in both adults and children.

In one interesting study, a group of highly stressed adults were alternately given a rabbit, a turtle and a toy to pet. While the toy had no effect whatsoever, stroking both living creatures significantly reduced the anxiety of the subjects. Additionally, there seemed to be no significant difference between the furry animal and the non-furry one.

Fish

Another interesting element of recent research shows that animals do not even have to be touched in order to have a beneficial impact on humans. Fish in a tank can hold people’s attention and help them focus. When patients in an Alzheimer’s center dined in front of aquariums with brightly colored fish, they ate more and were less prone to pacing.

Crickets

Perhaps the most surprising of all the beneficial animals in recent tests was not furry, cuddly or pretty. A study in Gerontology showed that crickets could help the stress levels and overall moods of depressed elderly individuals. The subjects were given a cage with five crickets and instructed to take care of them for eight weeks. After the test period, the subjects were significantly less depressed than the control group, proving the benefits of simply caring for another living creature.

Happy and Healthy

If the trend continues, it seems as though further science will confirm more of the benefits that pet owners clearly display and understand. Owning and caring for an animal makes for a happy and healthy human.

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