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What is Animal Assisted Therapy?

Animal-assisted therapy improves patients’ mental, physical, social and emotional functioning with the aid of animals. Depending on the needs of the patient, many different animals can be used in therapy, including horses (also called equine-assisted therapy), dogs (also called canine-assisted therapy), dolphins, llamas, rabbits and other animals.

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Animal-assisted therapy takes place in a variety of settings, including prisons, hospitals, nursing homes, therapeutic boarding schools for teens and mental health facilities. This form of treatment can take place individually or in groups, and is led by a qualified therapist or professional with specialized expertise.

Much more than simply spending time with an animal, animal-assisted therapy involves specific therapeutic goals, strategies and outcomes measures. Therapeutic experiences can include walking, brushing, petting and caring for an animal, as well as processing the experience of trying to achieve a given task.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF ANIMAL-ASSISTED THERAPY?

There is a strong bond between animals and people. Animals are accepting, non-threatening and non-judgmental, making it easier for people to open up. Some of the benefits of animal-assisted therapy include:

  • Improved fine motor skills
  • Improved balance
  • Increased focus and attention
  • Increased self-esteem and ability to care for oneself
  • Reduced anxiety, grief and isolation
  • Reduced blood pressure, depression, and risk of heart attack or stroke
  • Improved willingness to be involved in a therapeutic program or group activity
  • Increased trust, empathy and teamwork
  • Greater self-control
  • Enhanced problem-solving skills
  • Reduced need for medication
  • Improved social skills

Because many children, teens and adults enjoy working with animals, animal-assisted therapy can be particularly beneficial for individuals who are resistant to treatment or have difficulty accessing their emotions or expressing themselves in talk therapy.

WHAT CONDITIONS/DISORDERS DOES ANIMAL-ASSISTED THERAPY TREAT?

People with a variety of conditions can benefit from animal-assisted therapy, including:

  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Addiction
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Dementia
  • Developmental disorders
  • Psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia
  • Emotional and behavioral disorders
  • Chronic pain