We’ve all sought comfort with our pets after a hard day. Sometimes your dog knows you’re not feeling too hot and cuddles next to you; your cat listens patiently to your complaints, purring against your chest. Seeing you walk through the door is the highlight of your pets’ day, and that sort of unconditional love can be helpful and supportive.
However, the human-animal bond isn’t just useful when you’ve got the sniffles or you’ve got unreasonable in-laws. Animals have often been used in therapy, helping treat mental and physical conditions for centuries. Despite this, animal assistance is usually not where people turn to when considering therapy. Playing with animals is so much fun--the idea that they could actually help us deal with illnesses is crazy! How could something so simple have such a large impact?
How Animal Therapy Works
As it turns out, interacting with animals has shown to increase oxytocin production, a hormone involved in bonding and happiness. This is fundamentally helpful in treating several mental illnesses. Furthermore, having a service animal promotes feelings of worth, since patients are taking care of another living thing, and it provides a reason to leave the house and interact with the rest of the world. Service dogs are used to help veterans overcome PTSD, but they are also helpful in dealing with any stressful scenario. They are currently used as emotional support for children testifying in court, as well as during conventional therapy. Research has shown the presence of an animal hastens emotional connections between patients and therapists. Understandably, this sort of calming presence is good for anyone dealing with a mental illness. It’s not just dogs either; service animals come in a variety of different species!
Some of these animals are especially beneficial for treating physical illnesses as well. Horse-riding can help with disorders like cerebral palsy, as it helps develop muscle control and balance. It’s important to evaluate what animal would best fit your needs. While emotionally comforting, cats are simply more isolated, lazy animals than dogs. However, they are also calmer. Others might prefer a bird, pig, ferret, etc. It is all going to come down to individual preference and what specifically your illness entails.
Cost of Animal Therapy
Acquiring a support animal can be difficult. First, you need to understand the difference between service animals and therapy animals. Service animals, mainly dogs, have some extra responsibilities and skills. They still provide emotional support, but they also lead blind owners or sense the onset of a seizure. On the other hand, therapy animals’ main function is to provide emotional stability for their owners. They still have to be trained, but not to the same degree
So, you can go about this two ways. One, you can purchase an animal from a trainer, or, two, you can train your existing pet to be a therapy/service animal. While it might be tempting to purchase an already-trained animal, it will also be more expensive upfront. Keep in mind that insurance will likely not cover the cost. Instead, think about adopting and then training an animal. Considering high shelter euthanasia rates, adopting an animal can improve both your lives significantly
However, maybe you already have the perfect pet in mind? If that is the case, there are training programs you can enroll them in. Do your research to find the specific requirements for therapy animals in your area, as well as relevant organizations. Often times, they are required to be vaccinated, have a therapy certification, and complete obedience classes. These animals are a huge help, but they also come with large price tag, especially horses. If you’re lucky, you can find some non-profits who are willing to help with the cost!
Animal therapy can help calm you down in stressful situations, deal with your mental illness, and improve your physical health. While often not the most obvious route of therapy, it should not be ignored. Although you will have to match up your needs with a specific temperament and type of animal, the benefits are well worth the effort. Sometimes, life hands us more than we can handle. Instead of breaking down, we just need to learn how to lean on our best friends.