Therapy Animal Spotlight: Amazing Results of our Favorite Furry Friends

June 23, 2017

When miniature horses trot the hallways of a Centers Health Care facility, it is hard to find anything but smiles. Some critics may think that such a visit is a gimmick that provides only superficial happiness. But the reality of it is that these therapy animals provide so much more than what can be captured by a camera. As clinical medicine grows and evolves, medical professionals have adopted new ways to treat patients and provide therapeutic services. One such area of growth that has proved to be clinically effective is the use of therapy animals.

Animal assisted therapy (AAT), is the use of animal intervention in an attempt to improve patient function on a variety of levels. Animals can assist in physical activity, cognitive function, social interaction, and emotional health. While dogs are the most commonly used therapy animal, there are no restrictions on what type of animal can serve a therapeutic function. Farm animals like horses, pigs, and even chickens are also used. Even dolphins have proved effective in this therapeutic treatment!

While there is no universal standard for the training of therapy animals, there are many organizations worldwide that specialize in training methods and certification. Therapeutic techniques can vary, but in most cases animals visit patients and provide a calm presence and affection. In the context of rehabilitation and nursing homes, therapy animals are often viewed as life-affirming. Just seeing an innocent animal can stir emotions in nursing home residents and inspire them, even if it’s just a little motivation that helps them with everyday tasks like taking out the garbage or making a bed. And since they are holding something cute and cuddly, the clinicians who incorporate animal therapy in their practice are often viewed as less threatening to residents, which leads to a stronger connection between caregiver and patient.

Since the use of therapy animals is relatively new in a clinical sense, scientists are still searching for definitive answers to quantify and explain the benefits of these visits. One explanation was proposed by American biologist and research Edward O. Wilson. Wilson hypothesised a specific relationship between man and animal that dates back to prehistoric times. He argued that humans have long depended on the signals and behavior of animals as warning scenes for danger in the wild. For example, when a deer bolts away from a river, that is a signal that a dangerous predator might be near by. Conversely, when animals are calm and affectionate, it signals that everything is safe. Wilson says that our bodies still respond with an innate reaction to docile animal behavior that allows us to relax and heal.

While there is undoubtedly much to be learned about the health benefits of animal therapy, Centers Health Care strives to be on the forefront of new techniques and advancements that can help our residents.

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