Nowadays, mental, physical, and emotional therapy are taken more seriously than ever. Every method to improve these types of therapy is constantly being explored, developed, and employed. That includes zootherapy. The US alone has over 50,000 therapy dogs, according to National Geographic. Thanks to human beings’ natural social inclinations, we tend to be receptive to the therapeutic potential of animals. Zootherapy is particularly effective in providing therapy for animal lovers, especially since training and curating therapy animals are handled by their fellow animal lovers as well. But anyone stands to benefit from animal-assisted therapy so long as they’re open-minded enough and have no aversion to animals. In case you’ve been wondering about how animals can provide therapy to humans, check out these examples.
Dogs can get people through depression and teach social skills
Dogs are often the pet of choice in animal-assisted therapy. They make excellent companions because of how well they have bonded with our species through the years. Everyone knows how effective seeing-eye dogs and hearing dogs are in helping sensory deprived individuals navigate through the world.
In terms of therapy, their main value lies in the fact that people’s cortisol or stress hormone levels decrease simply by being around them. This gives them a consistent therapeutic benefit for people experiencing depression. Aside from this, dogs can also assist children and even adults with social developmental disorders such as Asperger’s syndrome. Since dogs are social animals, they can teach social cues and other people skills.
Horses can help people re-learn motor skills and overcome neurological illness
Horses may not be everyone’s first thought when the term “therapy pet” is mentioned, but they offer some invaluable physical, mental, and emotional benefits to people with motor disabilities. The rhythm of a horse at a walking gait is highly similar in feel to that of a human’s and more easily felt too. Simply walking beside a horse can help someone with multiple sclerosis and other nervous system diseases to rebuild the neural pathways that control the essential skills that go into walking, such as balance and coordination.
But the best way a horse can aid a person with a disability is through riding. Riding, as some may not realize, requires a good handle on posture and bodily coordination, as well as balance. This makes it incredibly helpful for people with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, or degenerative bone diseases to regain control of their bodies. In fact, the advantages of horseback riding in modern cerebral palsy treatments have been documented as far back as the early 2000s. To this day, the benefits of horseback riding are recognized all across the zootherapy sphere. Their capacity to support patients emotionally and mentally continues to be studied, and further enhancements to existing equine therapy methods are still being researched.
Birds can soothe PTSD and other behavioral disorders
Some birds are well-known for their ability to sing, a trait that most people enjoy. But one might underestimate just how therapeutic that can be. The right birdsongs can soothe even the most violent mood swings. Even birds who do not sing have the potential to be a life-altering companion. Sometimes, people even get assigned turkeys as therapy birds.
But by far the most obvious choice for a therapy bird would be a parrot. They’ve proven themselves to be loyal friends to their keepers, and have been indispensable in the treatment of veterans and other individuals with PTSD. A man named Jim Eggers, who was plagued by bipolar disorder and violent tendencies, found peace thanks to his trusty parrot named Sadie. Sometimes, all it took to snap out of his trance-like states was for him to tell himself to calm down. Sadie would repeat the words back to him, and he would almost immediately come to his senses.
The best thing about animal-assisted therapy is that it can improve your health without you even realizing it. A lot of us just naturally enjoy animals, and that alone can be a driver towards better well-being.