What You Should Know About Animal Assisted Therapy

Animal Assisted Therapy commonly referred to as AAT, is a treatment or management that incorporates animals and other conventional methods of treatment. Animals have been kept since the days of yore as pets and companions to calm loneliness, wash away stress, and show unconditional love and affection. Therefore, your pet can be there for you in more ways including you or your family member overcoming that health condition.

Florence Nightingale, the pioneer of modern medicine, appreciated the introduction of small pets like birds in treatment plans, especially for chronically ill patients in the 1860s. Since then, various medical experts have adopted and recommended AAT to patients with varying conditions.

With that over with, here is what you should know about animal-assisted therapy:

You have the freedom to choose your preferred animal assistant

Traditionally, medical experts recommended canines as the primary animals for AAT. However, therapy has evolved to include other animals such as dolphins, cats, fish, horses, birds and even small rodents.This means that if you are not a dog person, you can still have your favorite animal as your assistant as long as it is trained and certified. You’ll never know the value of a support animals until your therapist tells you that  you’d be risking your well being, sanity, and your comfort levels if the animal wasn’t in your life. But then again, it also brings in the need to carefully select a pet that will be best suited for your needs. 

Among the factors to consider include:

  • Choose an animal that’s easy to maintain
  • Go for pets that are trained
  • Well behaved
  • Go for non-aggressive pets
  • Go for animals that are comfortable when around people

AAT can be applied individually or in group settings

A common misconception is that AAT can only be carried out on an individual level, but that is not the case. You don’t believe that? Just take your adorable poodle to your neighborhood physiotherapy center, your town’s hospital cancer center, or even the home for the elderly and you will see how much they will all appreciate it. AAT can be recommended for a group of patients, especially if they have similar conditions like autism or behavioral disorders.

AAT is not for everyone

Ooh! That pony is so adorable…. That munchkin cat is so cute…. Aren’t pets lucky? To Receive all that attention and adoration is no easy thing! They must deserve, but as much as that is a fact, animals are not for everyone. Animals can be carriers for allergens, and therefore, not recommended in cases where the patient has animal-related allergies. Similarly, some people simply dislike animals or can be violent towards them and so, in such cases, it is not advisable to incorporate animals in the treatment plan.

AAT really works well with pediatric patients

We all agree it is sad to see a baby or child suffer from a debilitating health or psychological condition. Children create such strong bonds with animals as well as pets and better still, children naturally love animals. So even though a child has a health condition, having a cute pet companion can very much help in easing the suffering and even encourage the child on the road to recovery. Goddard and Gilmer explain it better here. For decades, the practice of integrating animal assisted therapy to self care support has shown to bear positive results. Patients are happier and have hope to get well. In addition to this, it also helps to improve doctor patient communication, especially among children who are critically ill because as you may well be aware, pets are the ultimate ice breakers.

Can be applied alone or together with other forms of treatment

Having an animal companion or as a pet is very therapeutic either during treatment or on the recovery lane. However, in some cases where patients have complex health or psychological disorders like cancer or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – especially for military personnel who’ve experienced horrific and traumatic situations in real life – or patients with heart conditions. In such cases, medical experts recommend accompanying the conventional treatment methods with AAT for the benefit of the best results.

Evidence has shown that the close proximity of humans and pets releases the “happy” hormones such as endorphins, oxytocin, prolactin, phenylethylamine and dopamine in both species. These hormones are crucial in easing patients’ tension if he/she is in pain or is facing a health or psychological condition. Animal Assisted Therapy has its perks in treatment as well as on one’s road to recovery. It can be applied when dealing with patients of all ages, as they all appreciate the companionship of these cute and adorable animal assistants.