Animals have been companions to humans since recorded time, but the use of this companionship to foster health and well-being has only recently been viewed as potentially contributing to healing. After all, who doesn’t smile when meeting a furry ball of love with a wagging tail?
Pet therapy was first used to assist those with mental illnesses beginning in the 1800s. It was found to be a helpful adjunct to psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud. Animals as companions to those with physical illnesses became recognized only as recently as 1976 when Therapy Dogs International—followed closely by the Delta Society (now called Pet Partners)—was founded.
Many studies have been done that have evaluated both the physical and emotional effects of pet companionship. In fact, the American Heart Association issued a scientific statement in 2013 saying evidence suggests pet ownership reduces cardiac risks. Since then, many physical and emotional benefits have been witnessed. Some of these have included:
- A decreased need for pain medications
- Less emotional distress
- Lowered stress levels
- Decreased anxiety
- Improved mood
- Decreased loneliness and social isolation
- Reduced fatigue
- Improved sense of emotional connection
- Stimulated appetite
One study on patients undergoing radiation therapy even found that those people who had dog visits rated their health as better than those who did not have dog visits as part of their therapy. Another study noted that pet therapy during chemotherapy improved depression as well as blood oxygenation. For more about the UCI Pet Therapy Program, click here: https://www.ucihealth.org/volunteer/tails-pet-therapy