Animal assisted therapy

Animal-assisted therapy is a complementary type of therapy that includes the use of animals in a treatment.

It includes an animal in a therapeutic context such as emotional support animals, service animals trained to assist with daily activities, and animal assisted activity.

Many conditions that can benefit from animal-assisted therapy in diverse settings including  psychological disorders, developmental disorder,s, dementia, cancer, chronic pain, and advanced heart failure.

Animal-assisted therapy is commonly used for psychological disorders 

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and major depressive disorder are among the psychological disorders that can benefit from animal-assisted therapy.

Animal-assisted therapy can be classified by the type of animal, the targeted population, and how the animal is incorporated into the therapeutic plan.

Most commonly used types of animal-assisted therapy: canine and equine-assisted therapy. 

Animal-assisted therapy improves a social, emotional, or cognitive functioning and useful for educational and motivational effectiveness.

Positive effects are reported on subjective self-rating scales and on objective physiological measures such as blood pressure and hormone levels.

Human-animal interaction has  positive effects on dementia, mental health symptoms, and fear.

Hypothesized seeing animals at rest or in a peaceful state, may signal safety, security and feelings of well-being which in turn may trigger a state where personal change and healing are possible.

Six neurotransmitters influencing mood are released after a 15-minute or more interaction with animals.

Settings for animal use: 

prisons, nursing homes, mental institutions,and in the home.

Assistance dogs can support certain life activities and help people navigate outside the home.

Goals for animal assisted therapy programs relevant to children and young people, including enhanced capacity to form positive relationships with others. 

Brain Injury survivors with cognitive impairments can benefit from animal-assisted therapy as part of a rehabilitation treatment plan.

Pets may promote kindness in children, and can be used in children with mental health problems, and can also help bring happiness, pleasure, entertainment and improve children’s moods,reinforce positive behaviors while helping to decrease negative ones.

Animals can be a distraction from pain, and other stressful situations.

Animals decrease anxiety and pain within the pediatric population, and increase comfort and decrease pain in pediatric palliative care.

Used in prisons to relieve stress of the inmates and workers, with reductions in severe or violent infractions.

A reduction in offenses statistically may reduce recidivism rates and increase former inmate job marketability and societal reintegration.

Caring for an animal can promote empathy, emotional intelligence, communication, and self-control in inmates.

Canine-assisted therapies are feasible and can elicit positive quality-of-life experiences in institutionalized people with dementia.

Animals can be helpful in motivating the patients to be active mentally and physically, keeping their minds sharp and bodies healthy.

In canine-assisted therapy, enhance therapeutic activities and well-being including the physical, cognitive, behavioral and socio-emotional functioning of clients, by being 

thought of  as friendly and welcoming.

Dogs comfort via body contact, and are 

required to possess a calm temperament.

In canine-assisted therapy promotion of patient interactions can help improve motor skills and establish trusting relationship, reduce stressful and anxious feelings patients have.

Canine assisted therapy is used as a complement to other therapies:  post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and dementia.

Canine assistance can promoting the development of creative writing and living skills and the participation of children in group activities.

Dolphin assisted therapy refers to the controversial alternative medicine practice of swimming with dolphins: is not known to be effective for any condition and that it presents considerable risks to both human patients and the captive dolphins.

Hippotherapy is promoted as a treatment for people with physical or mental challenges and utilizes equine movement as part of an integrated intervention program to achieve functional outcomes.

Therapeutic riding as a riding lesson is adapted for people with special needs.

Pigs have been used in animal-assisted therapy in hospitals, nursing homes,and special-needs schools, or as emotional support animals for individuals with conditions such as autism or anxiety and veterans with PTSD.

Children who receive both canine-assisted therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy have short term reduced severity of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms.

Use of emotional support animals yields quantifiable reductions in depression, anxiety, and loneliness for patients with serious mental illness who live alone.

Investigators followed 11 community-dwelling adults with a serious mental disorder,  who were paired with a shelter dog or cat for 1 year: levels of oxytocin — a biomarker associated with bonding, as well as cortisol and alpha amylase, which are markers of stress showed significant reductions in measures of anxiety, depression, and loneliness were found for all participants. 

Service animals perform specific functions,  emotional support animals provide benefits that fall along the same dimensions as the benefits of pets: physical, social, emotional, and psychological.

Animals have direct and indirect effects on the mental health spectrum:  biological, psychological, and social responses.

Effects of animals include a decrease in anxiety and blood pressure while indirect effects result in increased social interactions and overall participation in everyday activities.

Animal assistance can potentially mediate oxytocin which effects social and physical wellbeing and decrease blood pressure.

Dog and human interactions reduce  anxiety and depressive symptoms, increase resilience, and provide emotional and psychological assistance and support.

The presence of an animal can alleviate feelings of danger,and can elicit positive emotions.

Animal interactions provide social benefits: providing companionship and alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation through everyday routines and increased social interactions.

Dog assisted therapy and therapeutic horseback riding are methods for treating post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans.

Service dogs provides relief through specialized support related to a physical, mental, or psychological disability.

Emotional support animals solely provide psychological relief and do not require specialized training.

Therapy animals often  support 

counselors/ therapists in their therapeutic duties.

Dogs provide subjective positive effects to veterans and serve as a compassionate reminder to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder that danger is not present, creating a safe space for the veteran.[3] 

Interactions: petting, playing and walking a dog can increase physical activity, reduce anxiety, and provide encouragement.

Horses have been included in the treatment of those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder by providing an accepting and nonjudgmental environment.

Horses are social animals, and are capable of creating and responding to relationships, providing an opportunity for patients to regain the ability to form trusting relationships.

Horses can promote cognitive reframing as well as an increase in the use of mindfulness practice.

Individuals who have participated in programs with horses have better communicate skills, self-awareness, and self-esteem, promoting safety and support,

increased happiness, social support, and better sleep hygiene.

Animal-assisted therapy can be an effective in treating the trauma for survivors of sexual assault. 

Dogs have been shown to improve communication between the survivor and the therapist and to decrease survivors’ anxiety, fear-responses 

and increases social interaction for those with the disorder.

Animal-assisted therapy leads to a reduction of symptoms including anger, depression, and dissociation in survivors of sexual assault, and has also been shown to reduce problem behavior and improves overall behavioral functioning for children survivors of sexual assault.

Animal-assisted therapy may reduce the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder:  aggressiveness, irritability, distractibility, and hyperactivity.

Some studies showed positive effects of therapeutic horseback riding on children with autism spectrum disorder. 

Dog  assisted intervention provides a calmer environment by reducing the stress, irritation, and anxiety that children with autism spectrum disorder experience.

Playing with dogs increases the positive mood in children with autism spectrum disorder.

In the presence of animals, children with autism spectrum disorder are more likely to engage in social interactions with humans.

Animal-assisted therapy encourages expressions of emotions and cognitive stimulation.

Animal assisted therapies, particularly with dogs, results in measurable quality of life improvements for patients with dementia, improved their social interactions and agitation, and slightly reduce depressive symptoms.

Animal assisted Interventions have a negative effect on the mental and physical wellbeing of the animals. 

Reports exist of negative interactions between human participant and therapy dogs, including  mistreating and teasing the dogs by patients and staff at locations in which therapy is hosted.

Animals can have an overall positive effect on health and improve mood and quality of life linked to the human-animal bond. 

Animals are used in a variety of settings: 

nursing homes, and mental institutions, to assist people with different disabilities or disorders.

Animals are considered as agents of socialization and as providers of social support and relaxation.

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