What Is Animal Assisted Therapy and Its Applications?

We all probably know that having a pet is actually good for health and those who are around animals are less likely to suffer from loneliness and depression and animal assisted therapies are now a growing trend among those who wish to eschew drugs in favor of natural healing.

Animal Assisted Therapy

Animal assisted therapy has its roots in the remarkable ability of a Yorkshire Terrier called Smoky and his contribution to the healing of soldiers during World War II. Smoky was roped in to cheer up the convalescing Corporal William Wynne and the dog did a power of good to other wounded soldiers as well. Smoky continued his work as a therapy dog for the next 12 years.

In the 1970’s an American nurse called Elaine Smith noted the positive impacts that dogs could have on ailing individuals and she proceeded to initiate a dog training program which would help patients by having dogs visit medical institutions.

Later the work of individuals such as Nancy Stanley and others brought animal assisted therapy to the fore and brought within its ambit, other animal such as cats, dolphins, rabbits, therapy birds and even llamas (it has been seen that children may walk twice as far when accompanied by docile and friendly llamas and they are very effective when they form part of therapy for disabled children).

Animal assisted therapy has various different applications; physical, emotional, motivational and educational:

  • Animal assisted therapy can help on the physical level by helping people improve fine motor skills, wheelchair skills and enhance coordination and balance. There is also some evidence to show that animal therapy can help to lower blood pressure, depression and risk of heart disease and stroke
  • Animal assisted therapy may also help improve social skills by improving people’s recreational or leisure skills, improving verbal interactions within a group and so on. as anxiety and feelings of loneliness can be reduced with the help of an animal, so can there be an enhancement in self esteem and trust issues
  • Animal assisted therapy can also have educational impact by helping increase vocabulary and knowledge of concepts
  • A person’s levels of motivation in terms of interpersonal and professional relationships and group activities can also improve.
  • A recently conducted study at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, NJ., found that animal assisted therapy reduced patient anxiety when they were to undergo MRI procedures. Researchers found that time spent with dogs could help reduce anxiety as effectively as pharmacologic anxiolysis (anti-anxiety medication)