College of DuPage Nursing Student Camille Volkening shared that Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is an interaction between a person and a trained animal, supervised by the animal’s trainer. AAT should not be confused with animal-assisted activities (AAA). AAT is a formal set of sessions that help people reach specific goals, whereas AAA includes more casual visits at places like high schools, nursing homes, hospitals, etc. AAT is used to help people of all ages cope and recover from health problems or mental disorders, and ultimately get back to feeling better again. People undergoing chemotherapy, residents in nursing homes, veterans, children having surgery, stroke victims, and people with mental health disorders, among many others, are great candidates for pet therapy. The most common animals used in AAT are cats and dogs, but other animals including horses, pigs, and fish may be used. The type of animal selected and pet therapy used depends on the desired goal(s) listed in the treatment plan by your doctor or therapist.
Some benefits of AAT include:
- Reduction in blood pressure and heart rate
- The release of endorphins (oxytocin) that produce a calming effect; In turn, this can ease pain and reduce stress, anxiety, and depression
- Improvement in fine motor skills, wheelchair skills, balance, and coordination
- Improvement in recovery time
- The decrease in feeling lonely or isolated