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Benefits of the Animal Companion for Mental Health

Updated: Jul 7

Kyle Dijon Hill, MD MSCR, Affinity Patient Advocacy Board Member


Having a companion to hug while enduring difficult emotions can soothe the chocking feeling in your chest and can even provoke a smile. The most suitable companion for such non-judgmental therapy is one that listens patiently and loves unconditionally; being soft and fluffy doesn’t hurt either!


There is a reason dogs are referred to as man’s best friend. Dogs thrive off of attention and affection, placing their owners on a pedestal. After returning home fro


m a long and stressful day at work, there is nothing more satisfying than being greeted with enthusiasm and love. Dogs have the ability to live in the moment, without judgment and without worry or regret. There is much we can learn from our furry companions, how to appreciate what is happening in front of us as opposed to getting lost in the flood of thoughts held in our minds. The difficulties of th


e world melt away during our engagements and interactions with a dog. The dog is eagerly dishing out pure love and asking for little in return, merely an exchange of affection in the form of petting and scratching.


Therapy animals have their spotlight in the n


ews with outrageous accounts of peacocks on planes and boa constrictors in care homes. The truth is that animals are astonishingly attuned to humans’ physical and emotional needs. Even untrained animals can often decipher if someone is agitated or upset and will move into action to help calm the person by nudging or licking. Certain trained service animals can sense an impending seizure in an epileptic patient or detect a hypoglycemic state in a person with diabetes to remind them to administer their insulin.


With respect to mental health, therapy animals can help patients in various ways, including, but not limited to, reducing blood pressure and heart rate, easing symptoms of loneliness, stress, and anxiety. Therapy animals have been shown to release endorphins, elevate mood, reduce anger, improve self-esteem, and even improve sleep quality. There is evidence that owning and interacting with a pet will provide a good degree of emotional support. Talk to your healthcare or mental health provider to learn more about how a therapy animal could assist with your personal wellness.



Resources:

Barker, S. B. (1999). Therapeutic aspects of the human-companion animal interaction. Psychiatric Times, 16(2), 45-46. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.730.8607&rep=rep1&type=pdf


Hardin, D. S., Anderson, W., & Cattet, J. (2015). Dogs can be successfully trained to alert to hypoglycemia samples from patients with type 1 diabetes. Diabetes Therapy, 6(4), 509-517. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13300-015-0135-x


Odendaal, J. S. (2000). Animal-assisted therapy—magic or medicine?. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 49(4), 275-280. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022399900001835


Wells, D. L. (2007). Domestic dogs and human health: An overview. British Journal of Health Psychology, 12(1), 145-156. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1348/135910706X103284/full


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