Therapy: A Noble Profession For Animals

posted by Nikolas Wong

on April 30, 2018

Is it the button nose, velvet ears, or the unconditional love? Whichever the reason, animals have surely made their way into the hearts of millions in more ways than one. Cats, dogs, and even horses have the innate ability to connect with others on an interpersonal level. This makes them highly regarded as friendly companions and more recently as potential methods of therapy.

Medical facilities and health care professionals nationwide embraced furry companions as alternative methods of therapy to aid patients and their families on their road to recovery. For instance, Kaiser Permanente and HealthPartners medical facilities offer comprehensive volunteer programs in which certified therapy dogs, accompanied by their owners, can make volunteer visits to lift patients’ spirits.

Kaiser Santa Carla Hospital’s patients have already felt the benefits of these programs. Visits from Dante, the collie-shepherd mix therapy dog, have been known to relieve pain and anxiety for numerous patients. Giving high-fives or placing his paw at the bedside in greeting, Dante has become a celebrity among patients receiving care.

Pet therapy program volunteers Bob Molenda and Finnegan

Patients at HealthPartners’ Hudson Hospital & Clinic also experience benefits from therapy dogs including Finnegan, an 8-year-old yellow Labrador retriever who specializes in comforting patients at the medical-surgical unit and cancer center. Connecting with patients over belly rubs has made Finnegan such a superstar that HealthPartners lists him among 23 people to know at HealthPartners.

With a few tricks and companionship, therapy animals like Dante and Finnegan do a big service for individuals facing various health issues.

Improved Physical Health

Therapy animals keep individuals active and alert. Simple acts, such as leisurely walks or 15 minutes of petting a therapy animal can improve overall physical health. Aging seniors may find therapy animals especially beneficial. Therapy animals provide seniors with opportunities to engage in much-needed daily exercise, improving mobility and cardiovascular health. Other physical health benefits associated with therapy animals include:

  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Lowers overall physical pain
  • Releases calming endorphins (oxytocin)
  • Improves motor skills and joint movement

Improved Mental Health

Finnegan wins 2016 Companion Animal of the Year

Therapy animals also make significant impacts on patients’ mental health. Therapy animals have the renowned reputation of aiding individuals through times of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Therapy dogs especially have a rich history of assisting individuals with mental illnesses. Research conducted by Purdue University found that veterans suffering from PTSD with dogs had better overall mental health.

Additionally, Geisinger Health Plan notes that patients almost forget about their health issues when visited by Geisinger Lewistown Hospital’s volunteer therapy dog, Ace. A visit from Ace provides patients with a moment of harmony.

Notable mental health benefits associated with therapy animals include:

  • Lowers overall symptoms of post-traumatic stress
  • Lowers levels of depression
  • Increases levels of life satisfaction
  • Increases overall psychological well-being
  • Increases levels of socialization

Animals have proven to be an effective alternative to traditional therapy capable of improving physical and mental well-being. For patients trying to overcome health issues, having a furry companion might be just the thing needed to lift spirits and stay healthy.

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