Doctors have paid more attention to the psychological aspects of diseases. And pet care has also made a comeback. Pets help older adults deal with health issues: get active be social.
The proposed pet therapy for the first time in 1961 was made by child psychiatrist Boris Levinson who had accidentally discovered the beneficial effect of his dog on a sick child with autism. Thanks to this intuition, some animals can boast the title of “a therapist” supporting the doctor in the treatment process, interacting with the patient, and facilitating communication. Pets help older adults deal with health issues: get active be social.
The beneficial effects are especially noticeable in children and the elderly who are the first recipients of many animal-assisted activities and therapies (AAA, Animal Assisted Activity and TAA, Animal-Assisted Therapy). We call them with a more modern (and bureaucratic) expression.
The Ministry of Health recognized the scientific validity of animal therapies in 2003. But since 1997, it has supported various trials aimed at people with cognitive, behavioral, and psychological disorders.
In 2007, the Higher Institute of Health (ISS) carried out a survey of pet therapy activities at the national level and issued guidelines for a correct practice that also takes into consideration the ethical aspects of the use of animals for therapeutic and help. They developed these guidelines considering both the patient’s interest and the welfare of the animals used.
Figure 2. Pet therapy
In 2009, the Ministry of Health established a National reference to animal-assisted interventions (pet therapy) at the experimental zoo prophylactic institute of Venezia. This Center has drawn up national guidelines for animal-assisted interventions, studying new fields of application and training operators.
The results of many studies show that pet therapy is especially effective for the elderly, autistic children, or children with motor disabilities and physical and mental disabilities. Not only patients with spinal trauma, cerebral stroke; Alzheimer’s, and epilepsy also benefit from this type of therapy.
In the oncology field, there has been an increase in hospitals that admit animals as a supplement to normal care. The primary aim is to ease the physical and psychological suffering of patients to allow them to better face both hospitalization and therapies. The relationship between the patient and the animal aims to restore self-esteem, safety, the relational capacity to the patient. Most times, it allows us to regain psychological and motor skills lost because of suffering.
Exemplary Hospital Project
The Meyer Pediatric Hospital in Florence carries on, within the pain therapy department, an animal-assisted activity program. The company of an animal increases the tendency in children to socialize and interact with others and offers seriously ill children. An intense relationship between humans and animals is a psychological stimulus for recovery. It can also ease anxiety about separation from the family environment and the feeling of loneliness.
Figure 3. Exemplary Hospital Project
The project has some dogs born in 2002 from a collaboration between Meyer and Anthropozoa Association. Although it is difficult to work with children who are confronted with large fears such as those evoked by cancer, they prove that animals help to overcome moments of anxiety and difficulty.
Children play with dogs, touch, hug them, and establish an emotional relationship with them. Besides, if they can leave the ward, they accompany the animals to play outside or go for walks. The aim of the project is also to observe how the relationship is structured, collect important information to test how hospitalization is experienced, and reflect on the child’s psychological well-being.
An Analgesic of All Pets
Not only are animals good for mood, but they also reduce the perception of pain. In Florence, researchers showed this by comparing the suffering of a child for a blood sample in the presence or absence of their dog. During events that cause anxiety, the concentration of cortisol in the blood increases (cortisol is a hormone associated with the level of stress). The cortisol concentration in some children during a blood draw was lower when their dog was present. It showed that the children were to be less stressed, and consequently suffered fewer, thanks to the dogs.
The Meyer also played one observational study with 28 children between the ages of four and twelve, to more assess the welfare state in the presence of animals. After playing with the dog, the children describe themselves as happy. Conversely, on the days when the dogs are not there, their mood is more depressed.
These data are further confirmation of the value of activities with animals from the drawings made by children. In Tuscany, in the province of Arezzo, the GAIA Association (Interdisciplinary Animal Help Group) organizes animal-assisted activity and training projects. The dogs are all scrupulously checked by the veterinarian from the hygienic-sanitary point of view and are provided with a certificate issued by the veterinary manager of the ASL that allows their use for therapeutic purposes.
Dogs circulate freely around the ward in the presence of two dog operators and a psychotherapist and spontaneously contact with the patient. For example, they carry a soft toy, give their paw, and show their belly. With the consent of the patient during chemotherapy, they can get on the bed. The patient can pet the dog, relax, and talk to the operators.
Patients who take part in forms of pet therapy respond better to treatment. For example, they experience fewer side effects of chemotherapy and accept sessions more willingly. It is a source of anxiety and fear.
The Horse Also Plays Its Part
They study an integrated structure with the recovery and rehabilitation services of the complex structure of neuropsychiatry of childhood and adolescence of the Niguarda Hospital in Milan. The horse contributes to the therapy through the emotions it can arouse and through the gate that gives the patient some physical tonicity. There is a correlation between the horse’s gait and the human one, and the horse’s rhythm transmits a series of stimuli to the patient that act on his equilibrium when standing and in motion.
Figure 4. Horse is Friend
The active participation of the rider allows establishing a strong physical bond with the animal because they mount the horses without a saddle, only with a blanket and a band. In this way, the rider’s perception is more relaxing, and he becomes more confident.
In children with cancer, coordination and mood also appear to improve. Then, contact with the horse seems to increase the immune system and facilitate the production of endorphins. They accompany us in our difficulties and happy moments. The pets add quality to our lives and offer multiple benefits. Taking care of it means taking on a great responsibility, but the result rewards the efforts made. A classic pet like a dog or a cat or a more exotic one like an iguana. All of them improve the health of their owners.
Pets and Benefits
When we are with our pets, we feel accompanied, even supported. We also feel happier. Animals, most times, give meaning to our life. If we already love our animals deeply, discovering the benefits they offer us will motivate us even more not to part with them.
They extend life
Walking your dog translates into more daily exercise. Changing your goldfish’s water keeps your mind active. These are physical and mental exercises that activate the body; circulation improves and the chances of suffering from certain diseases decrease.
They help overcome obstacles
Pets also help those with psychological problems, such as post-traumatic stress. They help channel emotions and give meaning to one’s life. Besides, they can help us prevent the onset of various diseases.
The sense of smell of dogs and cats is much more developed than that of humans. It allows them to be the first to detect changes in chemical levels in our bodies. Some dogs are trained precisely to detect symptoms of hypo and hyperglycemic crises in diabetic patients to avoid major problems.
They fight loneliness and isolation
Our pets help us cope better with loneliness. They are called pets. It is one of the many reasons to adopt an animal, be it a dog, a cat, or a canary. Besides accompanying us, dogs help us socialize more. People who have dogs often make friends with each other because they share the same green spaces or the same paths.
They make you happy
Taking care of animals allows you to see them healthy and happy. It stimulates the secretion of dopamine and serotonin in us, two hormones that cause happiness and well-being. Likewise, it reduces our levels of cortisol, the hormone that causes stress. Following this, we feel calmer. Petting our pets to their anatomy is a good antidote to sadness thanks to many benefits. They force us to be responsible.
One of the major benefits for children when adopting a pet is it obliges them to take care of a living being that will depend on them. They will not only learn to relate to other species but also understand that they need to worry about their well-being. It will teach little ones to show more empathy, not only with animals but with people as well.
They make us more immune
Having a pet, especially from childhood, exposes us to allergic agents and foreign pathogens by sensitizing our immune system. If you live with an animal from the first years of life, you also run a lower risk of suffering from allergies.
They prove that animals make us happier and help us in our daily life and are excellent life companions. However, we must know adopting a pet is not like having a toy or an accessory. They are living beings who need us and who depend on us.
There is an alarming fact that the number of abandonments and the purchase of animals are constantly increasing. Despite the constant abandonment, we continue to encourage the sale of animals. We are putting the lives of many of them in danger.
Adopting instead of buying will give us the certainty that we are saving a life, that we are doing a good job. Pets help older adults deal with health issues: get active be social. Animals are sensitive beings, and they rejoice or suffer with us. If we love them unconditionally, they will do the same to us.