Therapy Animals: Everything You Need to Know
Most of us animal lovers already know what the rest of the world is just beginning to figure out, the pets of the world are truly our unsung heroes. That is becoming more and more clear, as more and more animals are being used as therapy animals every day. These types of animals provide therapy at facilities such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. They have also been known to provide comfort like nothing else can to children after natural disasters and school shootings that the child has been involved in. These aren’t just your regular run of the mill household pets, these therapy animals are heroes. The most typical animals used for therapy pets are cats and dogs, but these days, there are more being added to the list every day.
Everyone who has a pet can tell you that their pet can lift their mood and make them happy, even after the most tiring of days. Of course, there is, as with anything else in the world, plenty of controversy surrounding pets and their use as therapy animals. But the fact remains and is easy to see, that pets are loving creatures, who are loyal to their owners, and have been proven to help patients get through the most traumatic of times and many illnesses.
That is why in this blog, we will discuss a few of the things you need to know about therapy animals from what types there are to the benefits and even the reasons that people use pets as therapy animals, and much more. So, curl up on the couch with your canine or feline friend, and let’s delve into therapy animals and everything you need to know about them. Ready to get started? Then, let’s get it done!
What is the Difference Between a Therapy Animal and a Service Dog?
Therapy animals and service dogs are often thought to be the same thing, but that is a common misconception. Service animals are animals that are trained to do specific things for people who have certain disabilities, such as being blind or deaf. These types of animals are working animals and not considered pets. Therapy animals are actually someone’s pet and are not supported under the ADA, which means they are not allowed in all public places but are used as emotional comfort to get those who are injured or traumatized through a tough spot and to keep them company and give them comfort.
Different Types of Therapy Animals
When most people think of a therapy animal, they automatically think of a dog. However, in today’s world, there are a few different kinds of therapy animals, and the list is growing substantially every day. At the moment, there are six different types of animals that are regularly used as therapy animals. Read on below to find out what those animals are.
It doesn’t take a certain type of dog to be a therapy animal. They come in all shapes, sizes, male, female, and in many different breeds. Whether you see one walking down the street with their owner, in the mall, or in the grocery store, where some are allowed, these dogs are working for their owners. It is important to not just walk up and talk to or pet a dog, without asking the owner first. Though therapy animals are great, a dog is still a dog, and you never know how well they do with other humans.
Of course, there are people out there who are afraid of or just intimidated by dogs, so having one of them as a therapy animal would defeat the purpose. That is why cats have been brought in as therapy animals as well. The only problem with cats as therapy animals is that they can’t be transported near as easily as dogs can, and they can be temperamental, loners, and independent. However, they are used often in nursing home settings to cuddle with the residents and weaving in and out of the rooms to snuggle with whoever needs them. They are also used as therapy animals for the elderly who have dementia as well.
While very few people would think of a horse as a therapy animal, it happens more often than you would think. It is called equine therapy and is popular among people with a wide variety of problems and behaviors. Taking care of a large animal, such as a horse, takes your full, undivided attention and often helps to distract the person’s thoughts from their disruptive behavior and problems, whether it’s abuse, anger issues, learning disabilities or more. Not only is this form of therapy known to calm down patients it is also known to lower blood pressure, stress, and even anxiety, making it the perfect therapy animal for many people, with many problems.
Smallies are other types of small animals that are being used as therapy animals today. They are small animals such as guinea pigs and rabbits that offer comfort, companionship, help with fine motor skills and emotional problems, and work as well as their counterparts for emotional support as well. Smaller pets have the added benefit of being easier to contain and care for if you want a therapy animal but can’t take care of a dog or cat.
While some of us can’t handle the squawking of a bird, many birds, especially parrots have been used with great results as therapy animals. Since parrots can be taught words and phrases, it’s much easier for them to be able to work with their owner through any psychological episodes. They are used often for veterans who have PTSD to help them calm down and give them something to take care of.
Reptiles are new additions to therapy animals but seem to be working wonders with some people. They have been known to help people who are struggling with substance abuse, depression, and eating disorders the most. Caring for a reptile takes a good deal of patience and concentration and since it’s not something that everyone will and can do, it gives these individuals a confidence boost as well.
These are the most commonly used animals being used for therapy animals today, though there are more out there. Now, that you know the most common types, let’s go onto our next section on the reasons that many people get a therapy animal as a means of emotional support.
Reasons to get a Therapy Animal for Emotional Support
Emotional support pets, ESA pets, come in a variety of species, sizes, shapes, and breeds, as we have discovered. However, you might be wondering why people decide to get a therapy animal for emotional support. Read on below for a few of the reasons and the top benefits to be revealed.
Everyone knows that a good friend can help you through even the toughest times in your life. That is why many people turn to therapy animals as emotional support, especially those who have mental issues. Also, if you have an official letter stating that your furry companion is an ESA animal, most places will let your pet accompany you everywhere you go. Many restaurant owners and landlords are happy to let an emotional support animal stay on the premise to help their patron or their tenants.
Reducing Stress Levels
Anyone with a pet can tell you that getting out in the yard and playing with your pet can reduce your stress levels quite a bit. Having a pet in a public place, such as the park, school, and other areas can often help to alleviate the stress and anxiety that comes with such places, especially if you have mental issues to start with, and have problems coping in these types of situations.
Top Benefits of Therapy Animals Revealed
There are also many benefits out there to recommend therapy animals to some people. We will list a few of those benefits below.
- Helps to lower blood pressure
- Releases calming endorphins
- Is known to improve cardiovascular health
- They have been known to help reduce overall physical pain being suffered by their owners
- It is thought that the act of petting an animal causes an automatic relaxation response to be triggered, which has actually helped to reduce the amount of medication some patients need to take
Mental Health Benefits
- Lessens depression
- Lifts spirits
- Helps with the feeling of isolation
- Provides comfort
- Encourages the person to communicate
- Reduces anxiety
- Relieves boredom
- Increases socialization
- Helps children to overcome emotional and speech disorders
- Helps with feelings of loneliness
- Encourages the patient to get better faster
As with any other animal out there, it’s important to know how to work with a therapy animal. While they might be the most gentle, loving and loyal animal in the world, they are still animals. Read on below, for a few safety tips for working with these animals to help you along.
Safety Tips for Working with Animals
Approach Any Animal with Caution
Whether it is your favorite pet that is your therapy animal or you have been assigned one, it’s important to approach any type of animal with caution and the respect that they deserve. Talk softly as you approach the animal, so as not to startle them, this goes for a dog, cat, horse, or whatever therapy animal you are working with.
Always Stay Alert
This safety tip goes more for working with horses, birds, and reptiles than it does with domestic dogs and cats who are therapy animals. Make sure that you always stay alert, as any animal when startled or feeling threatened will attack, scratch, claw, kick or bite at what they think that threat is. Don’t let yourself get distracted by your cell phone, your thoughts, or even conversations with others when you are taking care of your therapy animal. That should be your time together, to help you heal.
Watch for and Minimize Allergic Reactions
Watching for and minimizing allergic reactions is also important when you are working with any type of therapy animal. Just because you want to have a certain animal for emotional support, doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to have animal dander and hair circulating in your home. It’s important to keep the home clean and free of dander and hair and to treat any allergic symptoms you might have right away, to keep them from becoming worse.
Have a Concrete Exit Strategy in Place
When you are working with large animals, such as horses used for therapy, it’s important to have an exit strategy, in case they shy away or start to panic with you inside of their stall. You want to have a way to get out quickly, as you don’t want to be trapped in the stall with the horse if something were to happen. Have that plan in place, before you ever start to work with your therapy animal, and you should be fine.
Can Your Own Pet Become a Therapy Animal?
This is a question that we hear often and the answer is yes, you can take the steps to register your own animal as therapy or emotional support animal. There are quite a few hurdles, you and your pet will have to go through and your pet must be well trained and well behaved from the get-go. You should do your research and check with the authorities over therapy animal registration in your area for more details.
This concludes our blog on therapy animals and what you need to know. Animals are much more than just pets to most of us, and this is their way to prove it.
- Alliance of Therapy Dogs: A Beginners Guide to Therapy Dogs
- Wide Open Pets: 6 Types of Pets Used for Therapy
- Therapy Pet: Top Benefits of Getting an ESA