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When Is Animal Therapy Most Effective?

Many people find comfort in animal therapy. Studies show that petting animals can lower stress hormones, speeding healing. Other benefits include reduced blood pressure, improved cardiovascular health, and more.

Therapists may use cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, and chickens in sessions. Activities may include stroking, petting, walking, or washing the animals.

Stress Reduction

Animal-assisted therapy can help reduce the stress people experience with their medical conditions. People might find it easier to relax in a session with an animal, such as a dog or cat, than with a therapist (Compitus, 2021b). Animals can also act as social rewards, encouraging clients to attend sessions regularly.

The presence of animals may also lower anxiety around undergoing medical procedures or surgeries, as some research shows that petting dogs can lead to decreased heart rate and slowed breathing. Interacting with pets releases the oxytocin chemical that improves people’s immune systems and boosts pain thresholds.

Pets used in animal therapy San Diego, CA, must be screened for health and behavior before becoming part of a program. Those who have allergies to animal dander or are immunocompromised by other medical conditions might not benefit from animal-assisted therapy. Your doctor or therapist will manage your treatment; the animals brought in for visits are typically certified as therapy animals.

Mental Health

For many people, animal-assisted therapy helps to improve their mood, and it also reduces feelings of hostility and anxiety. Stroking and petting a pet, particularly a dog or cat, prompts the body to release serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin. These happy hormones promote a relaxed response and lower stress levels, which allows individuals to focus on their treatment or therapy.

Studies show that people with mental health conditions such as depression and PTSD can benefit from the loving affection of an animal. Some hardened criminals in prison report long-term positive changes after being given pets as part of their rehabilitation programs.

Generally, the handler for a therapy animal will be an experienced professional. They are certified through several groups and organizations and work under the doctor’s guidance overseeing the program. These professionals might have special training in handling certain types of animals for specific purposes. They may be able to help participants who have particular needs, such as those with disabilities or mobility limitations.

Physical Health

Interacting with a pet can increase endorphins, lowering the body’s sensitivity to pain and increasing motivation. This can help participants in physical therapy sessions or other healthcare programs work harder and see more results during their treatment.

Petting animals triggers the brain to release happy hormones like serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin. This can reduce the symptoms of depression and loneliness associated with some health conditions, helping people feel more comfortable during their treatment or recovery. Happier patients are also more willing to participate in therapy, making it easier for medical teams to help them achieve their goals.

Some healthcare facilities or communities may have therapy animal programs that allow patients to visit with animals once a week for a short period. However, it’s important to note that not all pets are suitable for therapy, and some people who have a severe phobia or allergy would not benefit from animal-assisted treatment.


Spending time with animals prompts the brain to release oxytocin, serotonin, and prolactin, encouraging positive mood states and lowering stress levels. This creates a sense of well-being and can reduce feelings of loneliness and depression, which often accompany health conditions.

Studies show that people interacting with therapy animals feel more motivated to continue treatment and achieve a healthier life. This is partly because animal-assisted therapy stimulates the release of phenylethylamine, which boosts energy and decreases brain fog.

Many hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and rehabilitation centers have therapy animals that provide services to clients who need support. These animals can be permanent center residents or visit for short sessions – like animal visitation – to complement traditional therapy sessions. Animal-assisted therapy can also be done online in a flexible format for busy schedules. This type of therapy requires a licensed psychotherapist and a certified therapy pet, such as a dog, cat, horse, or rabbit.

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