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8 Ways Therapy Animals are Healing the World


Tuesday April 11th 2017

Animal-assisted therapy is changing the way people heal, both physically and emotionally; four-legged friends are increasingly being used to improve the lives of people with debilitating illnesses or disabilities. Here are 8 ways therapy animals are healing the world.



1. Service dogs

Trained to help people with disabilities overcome day-to-day challenges, service dogs provide assistance to their owners and accomplish some amazing things every day.

Guide dogs are the most famous service animals and are used to lead blind and visually impaired people around obstacles and steer them clear of hazards; however, there are other types of service dogs such as
• Hearing dogs – alerting deaf people or those with hearing impairments to noises, alarms and even crying babies.
• Mobility dogs – completing small tasks like fetching things and pressing buttons for people who have mobility issues. They can even help pull wheelchairs up ramps.
• Psychiatric service dogs – improving the lives of people who suffer from chronic anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by making them feel safe and acting as a barrier in social situations.

2. Cats in nursing homes

Though not normally specifically trained, furry felines wandering through the rooms of nursing and residential care homes is known to have an uplifting effect on residents.

Whether they’re rubbing their tails around someone’s leg or jumping onto their knee for a cuddle and stroke, they are guaranteed to lift the mood.

Oscar, a 12-year-old tabby, lives in the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre in Rhode Island, America. He is believed to have predicted the deaths of 100 people in a nursing home. Although notoriously anti-social, the grumpy puss uses his “sixth sense” to seek out people who are nearing their last days and offer them comfort and affection in their final hours.

3. Medical detection and alert dogs

Researchers have sought to channel the extraordinary sense of smell in canines and use them to detect disease or flare-ups of conditions.

Using trained bio-detection dogs to pick up scents in breath, swabs and urine, the animals detect changes to an individual’s blood chemicals that could be triggered by disease or a debilitating condition.

These expert sniffers allow medical professionals to be alerted early to signs of potentially fatal infections, cancers and viruses. They can also alert their owners if they’re on the brink of an epileptic seizure or diabetic attack or even an allergic reaction and give them the time to seek medical attention.

4. Pets cheering up kids in hospital

When the idea of bringing therapy animals into hospitals was initially floated there was a strong suggestion that the animals could bring in germs to a sterile environment.

But despite a lack of data on its impact, the uplift in mood is being seen among hospitals that have animal therapy programmes in place which is encouraging a roll-out of the initiative across the country.

Speaking to the Guardian, Maggie O’Haire, assistant professor of human-animal interaction at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, said: “In the area of therapy animals, practice is far outpacing research. People think it works and like the idea of it, so they do it. Positive changes from animal-assisted intervention are varied and there is no single pathway that has yet been identified.”

5. Companion dogs for kids with autism

Children on the autism spectrum benefit from routine, predictability and calm environments.

A dog can help people with autism in social situations and promote positive changes in behaviour such as encouraging them to interact with other kids and communicate more effectively. Kids who have autism can sometimes have a tendency to wander off and companion dogs can be trained to keep them from running away and can track down children if they do wander off.

6. Rabbit relief for people with emotional difficulties

Not everyone is a dog and cat lover but petting an animal is known to bring down stress levels and can be of benefit to people who suffer from emotional or psychological problems.

Smaller animals – such as rabbits – are less daunting to pick up and are often more appropriate for people who suffer from high levels of stress or anxiety.

7. Canine comfort for dementia sufferers

Alzheimer’s aid dogs are specifically trained service dogs that can help dementia sufferers in their homes, encouraging routine such as taking medication, eating meals and exercising.

However, they offer some more basic comfort to people with the debilitating disease and Darlene Romero owns a six-year-old Miniature Pinscher named Little Dorrit who helps dementia sufferers at the Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital in central London, providing companionship and comfort.

Of the therapy, Ms Romero said: "They cuddle her and they touch her and it is very calming for them. We have a patient currently on the ward and she loves Little Dorrit. She used to be very restless, not able to breathe without oxygen. But with Dorrit around she was able to calm down and come off the oxygen for more than an hour."

8. Stroke rehabilitation animals

Through interacting with, grooming and communicating with a therapy animal, stroke survivors can improve their motor skills, speech and activity levels; and as pets are a known mood-lifter, they can also encourage patients to be more committed to their rehabilitation.

According to the organisation Pets as Therapy (Pat), therapy animals can result in patients feeling “more at ease, more communicative and motivated to engage in therapy”.

Find out more about the health benefits of owning a pet