Who hasn’t heard the ‘oouhhs’ and ‘awwws’ that come with seeing a kitten chasing a string or a dog sleeping peacefully? We naturally can’t help but respond in the same manner. Animals are frequently the subject of the most watched videos online and most commonly shared pictures. Whether we internally recognize their innocence, identify with them on some level, or just think they are cute, animals can play a huge role in our well being.

You might have heard the words ‘Pet Therapy’ tossed around before, but just how does a pet provide therapy to someone? It seems potty training, vet bills, and chewed shoes might cause aggravation rather than therapy. However, the advantages of an animal-human relationship can be helpful in ways we might not have imagined before. Due to the nonjudgmental relationship and nurturing bond often formed with a pet, studies confirm many physical, emotional, and mental benefits of pet therapy.

Physical Benefits

  • Increase in exercise & mobility (walking, petting, brushing & caring for a pet)
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower blood triglyceride levels
  • Increase length in survival following a heart attack
  • Stress reduction
  • Enhancement of physical skills – example: intensive therapy with riding horses

Emotional Benefits

  • Companionship
  • Reduced feelings of loneliness & isolation
  • Increase in self esteem (the realization you are able to care for a pet & the pet enjoys seeing you)
  • Decrease in anxiety and depression
  • Increase in social interaction (with animal handlers & other patients)
  • A focal point other than a disability or illness

Mental Benefits

  • Provides a daily purpose (taking care of a pet)
  • Promotes feelings of being needed (the pet needs your care)
  • Mental stimulation (being entertained by a pet)
  • Memory stimulation (comparing therapy pet to pets from your past)
  • An opportunity to play or be creative

Pet therapy may not be suitable for everyone. Keep in mind not everyone has an affinity for animals. However, there have been amazing cases where people have finally been able to let go of past animal traumas and fears through pet therapy. Learning about the various options available for the different rehabilitation needs will aid in the decision making process for you and your family. Consult a therapist or your physician regarding visitation, ownership, or animal-assisted therapy options.

Carrie Robertson
Research & Community Education

Chicago Senior Living
Assisted Living in Chicago