Monday, November 3, 2008

Therapy pets beneficial to your health

This comment is actually for once not related to benefit the health of our pets but to ours, the pet owners’ very own. While I make it sometimes sound like owning a pet and taking care of it properly can be quite involved and requires a lot of tedious preparation and studying, there are, as we all know also many benefits in having a companion animal. In my opinion the benefits clearly outnumber the efforts we have to put in.
Related to this, I wanted to share with you what Dr. Watts, D.V.M. of Clevenger’s Corner Veterinary Care wrote in his interesting article for the Culepeper Star Exponent titled “Having a pet can be beneficial for your health”. I found it interesting because usually we don’t hear that much about the benefits he is talking about. He is taking the subject a hole level higher and says:
“Most pet owners probably agree that owning a dog or cat enhances one’s life and often leads to relief of stress or anxiety. Now, thanks to the efforts of dedicated, caring people, the benefit is being shared with nursing home patients, hospitalized individuals and even persons with social, cognitive, and/or physical disabilities.”
According to Dr. Watts, the American Heart Association in a medical study actually provided scientific proof that therapy with pets can lower blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety among patients with heart failure. Scientists carefully measured vital signs and stress hormone levels in 76 heart failure patients and found out, those who had visits with therapy pets exhibited less anxiety. These patients additionally had lower levels of epinephrine (a stress hormone) and had lower blood and lung pressure values compared with patients only seeing human visitors or no visitors at all.
Delta Society, an organization on a mission to “improve human health through service and therapy animals, says none of the AHA’s findings are new. ” For about 3 decades already, Delta Society has been a leader in promoting the use of therapy animals to help educate the public about the health benefits of pet ownership and to help improve the recovery quality of ill patients.
Therapy Dogs International has also been serving the needs of hospitalized patients, nursing home residents, and other places where therapy dogs are needed. Between the two organizations, more than 20,000 dogs are registered across North America.
An important clarification between therapy dogs and service dogs needs to be made though: Almost everyone is familiar with the Seeing Eye Dogs or Canine Companions for Independence. These highly trained canines are specifically trained to assist the individual with the chores of day to day living. Most often, a service dog is likely to be one of just a few larger breed dogs. In contrast, a therapy dog, or cat, can be of almost any breed and size, as long as the temperament is sound.
Therapy dogs are trained in two ways: AAA (Animal Assisted Activities) is the most common use of therapy pets. The animals are brought into situations to interact with individuals who may be bedridden or unable to interact in a normal social situation, such as children in long term care facilities. More commonly called “meet and greet” sessions, these activities can help bring joy to people whose lives might otherwise consist of repetitious treatments or other activities that fail to stimulate their emotions and intellect.
AAT (Animal Assisted Therapy) uses therapy pets to interact with a single individual. These activities have specific goals set for each individual and often involve coordinating certain physical actions with an interaction with the pet. For example, to help assist a child with fine motor skills, a therapist might bring a cat along and have the child feed the cat small treats from a container.
Even though these visits have documented beneficial effects, concerns about disease transmission, especially with immuno compromised individuals, should still be paramount. Many organizations have set guidelines as to when and where therapy pets can be used and will avoid taking pets into situations that might pose a risk. The Virginia Veterinary Medical Association has developed animal health guidelines for the administration of animal assisted programs.
If you feel that your pet might make a good therapy animal and are interested in possibly participating in any such programs available, contact either the Delta Society, Therapy Dogs International or a local therapy pet group. Your local hospital, nursing home, or humane society may be of assistance as well. You also should make sure to discuss your plans with your veterinarian to determine your pet’s qualifications and health status.

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