Australian shepherd dog gives woman a paw.

Comfort Companions: The Benefits of Pet Therapy

As an animal lover, many of us seek comfort from our cute, cuddly companions, so it’s no wonder that spending time with them makes us feel better when we’re down, right? While it may seem that simple, the science behind pet therapy and why it works is actually much more complicated.

Pet therapy, also known as animal-assisted therapy, is the guided interaction between a person and an animal. While this form of therapy may seem innovative, pet therapy has been around in some way for more than 150 years. Many believe that the famous nurse, Florence Nightingale, normalized the use of animals for therapy when she noticed that people suffering from injuries or illnesses felt better when animals were around.

Pet Therapy at AWA

Animal-assisted therapy has come a long way since the 1800’s and continues to evolve. It is no longer strictly used for those suffering from a physical ailment.

Animal Welfare Association’s popular pet therapy program strengthens the human-animal bond and aims to improve the overall health and well-being of children and adults in our community. Our dedicated volunteers make weekly visits to local senior and assisted living facilities to utilize their own behaviorally assessed pets such as cats, dogs, and rabbits for therapeutic purposes. This form of therapy is proven to have many physical and emotional benefits for those of all ages.

Pet Therapy for Seniors

As a result of loneliness or isolation, seniors often suffer from depression. Studies show that only 15 minutes of time spent with an animal can promote serotonin production in the brain creating the feeling of happiness and euphoria. Seniors who are unresponsive to other forms of therapy often “come out of their shell” with pet therapy. Other benefits of pet therapy for seniors include:

  • Improved socialization
  • Decreased anxiety, stress, depression, and loneliness
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Improved cognitive skills
  • Higher comfort levels
  • Entertainment
  • Increased self esteem

Pet Therapy for Children

Pet therapy has become increasingly popular in children. Those with autism, anxiety, depression and who have been through physical or emotional abuse have benefited from this form of therapy. For children, pet therapy can help them overcome a number of obstacles. These obstacles may include:

  • Building fine motor skills
  • Developing trust
  • Teaching compassion, empathy and responsibility
  • Improving independence
  • Improving outlook on life
  • Building Confidence

AWA has had the opportunity to work with organizations like Ronald McDonald House, Emeritus Senior Living, Brandywine Senior Living Communities, Lions Gate Senior Living, Brookedale Echelon Lake Senior Living, Avista Healthcare, Genesis Healthcare, Manor Care, and Seabrook Outpatient Drug and Alcohol Rehab. AWA plans to continue the development of our Pet Therapy program and expand our services to be able to provide confidence to children in local library reading programs and comfort to people grieving the loss of a loved one during funeral services.