Animals and owners can be trained for pet therapy usage.
What is Pet Therapy?
Pet therapy is meant to help patients recover from a mental disorder or other health problem. Sometimes this kind of therapy is called animal-assisted therapy, or AAT. The therapy involves the animal’s handler, a trained animal, and the patient. Usually, dogs and cats are the animals used in therapy, but even horses, guinea pigs, or fish could be employed. Pet therapy is not the same thing as animal-assisted activities, or AAA. Pet therapy is actually “a formal, structured set of encounters” designed to “help patients reach specific goals in their treatment”. AAA is for “more casual meetings…for comfort or recreation”. Animals and humans have a natural bond, and animals can help patients with goals in social, emotional, cognitive, and physical functions. It is important that there are defined goals, such as increasing self-esteem, improving motor skills, assisting with independent movement, reducing anxiety, increasing communication and social skills, and decreasing loneliness. Pet therapy has uses with chemotherapy patients, long-term care facility residents, patients with long-term hospital stays, veterans with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), mental health patients, and children. Patients who are allergic to dander may have side-effects. Animals are screened for health and behavior. The handlers and owners need to undergo evaluation and training as well. If an unsuitable animal is used, or if an animal is abused, injury may occur. If the patient becomes too possessive, or if the animal dies, there could be grief, guilt, or low self-esteem.1 Therapy sessions in a hospital room, for example, begin with patient consent and then about 10-15 minutes of a visit with the animal and the handler. The CDC “has never received a report of infection from animal-assisted therapy”.2
To become certified, a pet owner needs to contact Pet Partners, a nonprofit organization, and participate in a four-step process. The first step is a classroom or online course. The owners are trained to not only guide the animal but to look for signs of a patient’s comfort level. Next, the animal is screened for health and other issues in order to be approved by a veterinarian. Then, there is a test to check the abilities and skills of the handler and animal in therapy. The final step is the Registration Application submission. AAT certification allows for therapy in retirement homes, hospitals, and other locations.3 Pet therapy benefits physical health, mental health, reading focus, and even physical therapy.4