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Care Guides > Pet Therapy: How It Works and the Benefits

Pet Therapy: How It Works and the Benefits

Older man playing with a dog
Hannah Karim profile image
12/14/2022

Pet therapy is an increasingly popular form of therapy used to treat a variety of physical and emotional needs. Pet therapy uses specially trained animals to provide comfort, companionship and stress relief. This has been used to help numerous different people, including those with dementia, illnesses and other physical and psychological problems.

In this article, we’ll discuss what pet therapy is, how it works (including how it specifically helps people with dementia), who it’s aimed at, the benefits and more!


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In this article:

  1. What is pet therapy?
  2. Who is pet therapy for?
  3. Benefits of pet therapy
  4. How pet therapy helps people with dementia
  5. Risks and alternatives
  6. How pet therapy works in care homes



What is Pet Therapy?

Pet therapy is a form of therapy that utilises specially trained animals such as dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, and birds. These animals provide comfort, companionship, and stress relief to individuals, often older adults, especially those living with dementia.

Animals used in pet therapy are trained to interact with people in a gentle and loving manner while providing plenty of comfort and support. Pet therapy can be used to treat both physical and emotional health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD.





Who is Pet Therapy For?

Pet therapy is for anyone who could benefit from increased comfort, companionship, and stress relief. It can be used to treat physical health conditions such as pain, as well as emotionally-linked health conditions like depression and anxiety. Pet therapy is also suitable for people with dementia and similar conditions.

Studies have found that therapy dogs in particular can support in decreasing feelings of loneliness. That’s partly why pet therapy is most commonly used amongst older adults, many of which live alone.


Older woman and a cat





Benefits of Pet Therapy

Pet therapy has numerous benefits for both physical and mental health. These include:


Reduced Stress

It can help reduce stress levels, keeping you calm and relaxed.


Happier Mood

People who regularly have pet therapy are often happier and experience fewer feelings of depression or anxiety. What’s more, pet therapy can provide a sense of purpose to older adults, making them feel more valued within their community.


Improved Socialisation

Many older adults don’t interact with other humans as much. In this case, spending time with an animal instead can improve socialisation.


Better Cognitive Function

Pet therapy can help improve people think more clearly. By feeling more relaxed, individuals can focus and concentrate better. People are then able to cope with any symptoms better to lead a more fulfilling life. An animal such as a therapy dog can also help improve motor skills.


Higher Self-Esteem

Many individuals who have taken part in pet therapy feel more confident and have higher self-esteem. Loving displays of affection - such as a dog wagging its tail - can make somebody feel more positive about themselves.


Improved Physical Health

Pet therapy also offers several physical benefits, such as increased physical activity and improved cardiovascular health from walking or grooming your furry companion.





How Pet Therapy Helps People with Dementia

For people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease specifically - such as those in a dementia care home - pet therapy can provide many benefits. These include:

Very Well Health have a medically reviewed article that highlights many of these benefits. They mention a study published in 2008, where psychologists observed a calming effect following pet therapy in a sample of nursing home residents.


Older woman holding a small dog





Risks of Pet Therapy

Although pet therapy is generally safe, some risks should be taken into consideration. These include allergies and bites. It’s important to ensure that the pet is properly trained and up to date on vaccinations. Additionally, the place providing pet therapy (such as a care home) should make sure the individual feels comfortable around the pet.





Alternatives to Pet Therapy

There are alternatives to pet therapy that can be used to provide comfort and reduce stress levels. These meaningful activities include:

  • Art therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Massage therapy
  • Relaxation techniques



How Pet Therapy Works in Care Homes

Pet therapy is becoming increasingly popular in care homes. If a resident previously had their own pet or had to give their pet up when moving into the care home, a therapy animal can offer the joy and companionship they previously had with their beloved furry friend.

In a care home, pet therapy is known to ease loneliness for residents, particularly people who are missing their old home or pet. In this way, pet therapy can help create a sense of familiarity.

Residents may also benefit from reduced blood pressure, lowered stress levels, an improved mood and increased movement. Therapy animals have also shown they can increase positive social behaviour and decrease agitated behaviour, particularly for people with dementia.





To Conclude

Pet therapy is a safe and effective form of therapy that can provide numerous physical and mental health benefits. It’s also a great activity for anyone living with dementia.






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