Pet Therapy: Yes, Your Furry Friends Can Actually Help You Heal
Studies have shown that spending time with pets releases chemicals which make us feel comfortable and happy.
For two decades, 50-year-old Raj* avoided making any emotional bonds. He had lost his two-year-old all those years ago and the fear of losing another dear one kept him in his shell. When he finally made his first new friend after years, it was a furry one.
A break up, a bad day, an illness. For many of us, there has been one constant through all of these – our pets. They’re always there listening, loving and lending themselves for a warm hug.
We’ve always heard about companion animals – whether family pets or therapy animals – postively impacting people. But is ‘pet therapy’, as it’s called, actually a thing? Does it work? Is it medically backed?
Does Science Back Pet Therapy?
First, let’s get one thing clear. Pet therapy is a broad term for interaction with animals for social, emotional, cognitive and even physical healing or well-being. It’s of two types.
For example, Raj’s case is that of medical intervention. It’s called animal-assisted therapy (AAT). It’s a formal and structured approach which is handled by a therapist to help people recover from or better cope with health problems.
Raj suffered from depressing thoughts, unresolved guilt, and hopelessness, Dr Shobhana Mittal, psychiatrist from Cosmos Institute of Mental Health & Behavioural Sciences (CIMBS) tells us.
Along with medications and regular therapy, his doctor started keeping a dog in the room during his therapy sessions. And it was finally after days of gradually warming up to the dog and therefore getting comfortable that he opened up and let out his feelings after which his therapist started grief-related healing.
However, the other type, animal-assisted activities, has a more general purpose – to provide comfort and happiness through casual interactions with pets.
Dogs remain the most commonly used pets in pet therapy as they are exceptionally social. Other animals like horses, cats, guinea pigs, birds and rabbits are also helpful.
How Do Pets Make Us Feel Better?
A friend of mine once said, “My pet is better than all you humans.” Pet therapy has its benefits, as it not only makes us happy, but healthy as well. We say dogs are man’s best friends for a reason.
Studies have shown that spending time with pets releases certain neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine and endorphins which are responsible for a feeling of happiness and well-being.
Bonding with pets also releases oxytocin in the brain, which is the “cuddle hormone” that makes one feel loved and also plays a role in building immunity as well as longevity.Dr Shobhana Mittal, Psychiatrist, CIMBS
Not only do these chemical releases help as stress-busters, but also with alleviation of depression and anxiety. Additionally, pet therapy activates brain areas responsible for empathy, nurturing and social skills.
It has found use in treatment of autism spectrum disorders as well as persons with intellectual disabilities, as pet therapy helps in building social and communication skills and self esteem.
Dr Mittal adds that pet therapy has physical benefits too, as it motivates one to be physically active, thus improving cardiovascular health, joint movements and motor coordination.
Whether you love them from near or afar, I’m sure for all of us, there’ll be at least one happy memory that include our furry friends. Let’s make more! For now, let me leave you with this cute puppy to make your day. Thank me later.
(*name has been changed to protect identity)
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