CVMA | Documents | Therapy Animals-Our Best Friends!

Therapy Animals-Our Best Friends!

October 23, 2012

There are two main types of animal therapy activities:

1. Animal Assisted Activity (AAA) is the use of trained or oriented animals for the benefit of a group of people, perhaps hospitalized children or nursing home seniors.

Hospital Visitations: Here, selected dogs are taken to hospitals by trained volunteers with the express purpose of entertaining, helping patients forget their difficulties for a while, providing a "buddy" or friend, providing physical contact/touch, and just brightening up the hospital environment. Laughter is one of the many favorable results of a friendly, tail-wagging visitor!

Seniors Visitations: As in the case of hospital visitation, the dogs or cats provide a ton of laughs and help the residents enjoy the warm contact of a friendly pet. Some institutions have resident pets that have been carefully screened for good health and personality.

Therapeutic Riding for the Disabled: Though this activity can be assigned by therapists to assist with goals which would make it a part of the category below, the most common situation provides a semi-formal program utilizing specially trained volunteers, horses, and ponies that provide pleasure rides in a controlled situation. CARD or the Canadian Association for Riding for the Disabled is an example of a certified association for these activities.

2. Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is the use of animals for the benefit of a specific person undergoing a professional treatment program for an injury, for emotional development, or for psychiatric or criminal treatment. The animal is utilized in a formal way to help achieve prescribed professional therapy goals.

Physiotherapy: An occupational therapist may have a dog come in to help an injured worker regain movement of an injured area by assigning specific exercises involving the animal.

Social work: Social workers visiting children may bring a dog or cat along to help "break the ice" in their communications.

Jail or delinquent programs: Caring for an animal within the context of therapeutic programs has been shown to help troubled people regain their nurturing skills, amongst other benefits.

What do these animals do to help?

  • Provide entertainment
  • Build trust and a feeling of close bonding
  • Provide friendly touch and contact
  • Take a person's mind off their troubles
  • Help build esteem
  • Encourage a nurturing relationship where the animal is cared for and provides love and caring in return
  • Provide unqualified acceptance because they don't judge  people or talk back!
  • Trigger and interest in learning about animals and caring about them
  • They are quiet company, or just a "buddy"
  • Encourage relaxation of the person, reduce worry levels and even reduce blood pressure.

Veterinarians have been active in development of sensible health screening programs for service and therapy animals so that those animals in close contact with people are free of parasites and diseases that could interfere with the programs and the animal health. Many veterinarians are involved with ongoing preventive health care programs for therapy animals. Societies such as the Human Animal Bond Association of Canada actively work to promote the human-animal bond, and other groups including St. John Ambulance support and administer therapy animal programs. Your veterinarian can put your family in touch with associations that have more information about animals in therapy.