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Research Shows That Therapy Pets Help The Emotional Healing Process

Pets have long been used for their skills in a variety of fields, including police work, rescue pets, and of course service dogs which help those individuals with disabilities to live their lives safely. Recently, however, studies have proven that pets are useful in more situations than rescues and seeing-eye positions, they also make quite an impact on those who are in critical condition, or battling a fatal disease.


The concept has been tested in a few different scenarios, one of which included children, who had been diagnosed with cancer, and were in a stage where treatment was not proving successful.


Making Patients More Comfortable


While the appearance of a dog or other animal in a hospital has shown no increased rate for healing in terms of medical results, it has greatly increased the value of life which each patient still has during their illness. Children, in particular, found great enjoyment out of having pets with them, when little else seemed to lift their spirits. Medical News Today states: “Around 1 in 285 children in the US will be diagnosed with cancer before the age of 20. Survival rates for kids with cancer have improved dramatically in past decades. The number who die within 5 years of diagnosis has declined by more than 50% from 1975-1977 to 2007-2010. However, this improvement has not been matched by evidence of what can be done to improve quality of life for these young patients and their families.”


Having puppies and other small animals present in a hospital couldn’t take away any physical pain, erase symptoms, or increase the success rate of medications and other treatments, but the pets certainly changed the demeanor of young patients. Children who were able to interact with pets seemed happier, more relaxed, and less likely to focus on their illness or slip into a depressed state.


Places Pups Make A Difference


Therapy dogs are used in more places than just the cancer ward of a hospital, they have been shown to make a difference in settings such as nursing homes, schools, and special homes and centers where children with disabilities or mental illnesses are struggling. The presence of the pets has shown an increase in morale, and been able to relieve tension in those who suffer from anxiety. The Canadian Service Dog Foundation reports: “Therapy dogs come in all shapes and sizes.  They are social interactive dogs trained to work for a handler to provide service and comfort to other people, such as in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, libraries, rehabilitation units, for children with learning disabilities or difficulty with literacy, or they may be trained to support people in stressful situations, such as disaster sites.”


Therapy dogs are considered an alternative form of treatment for a variety of disorders and illnesses, providing a calm, supportive, and happy presence for those who might be unable to find those emotions during a difficult time in life. Pets have shown a significant success rate in situations where patience have been facing depression.


Checking The Statistics


During one recent study including cancer patients who were facing diseases in later stages which held no guarantee for a successful treatment and recovery, those who spent time with therapy pets showed drastic improvement on an emotional level when compared with those patients who did not see the dogs or have the opportunity to interact with the pets. This showed researchers that earlier statistics regarding patient reaction to pets was indeed true. The pets could not decrease pain or increase treatment success, but they could make a positive impact on patient life. Psychology Today explains the findings of one study, saying: “During the course of treatment the patients were extremely fatigued, they were also frightened and lost weight vital to maintain their strength...Given those results, as expected the measures of physical well-being and functioning went down significantly during the treatment regime. However, the emotional and social well-being of the patients actually went up contrary to what usually happens to similar patients who do not experience contact with a therapy dog.”


While the interaction with pets has shown obvious results, there are still those who would oppose the concept of animals in the hospitals and other places where they frequent for this type of treatment option. The practice isn’t brand new, but alternative forms of therapy are often slow to catch on, making it a tool that isn’t used as often as it could be.


Types of Pets Used In Therapy


Depending on the illness, disorder, or personal situation at hand, different animals and even animal breeds can be used for treatment. In the above case of cancer patients dogs or puppies are normally utilized, while nursing homes may implement cats as live in companions to seniors. In schools and libraries where animals are present for learning and child stimulation, rabbits, guinea pigs, and even hamsters may be used. In more physical therapy settings, horses are also a common species, as they offer patience and loyalty, while also displaying the strength to handle physical therapy requirements of those working on strengthening bodies after an accident or illness.


The ability to utilize pet therapy treatments is normally up to a physician or other professional, although patients can request this style of therapy if they are familiar with it and want to reap the benefits that it may offer. Parents of young patients can also make this request.

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