How Pet Therapy Works & 4 Important Things To Know If You're Curious About It
Animal lovers can attest to the fact that, sometimes, just being around the energy of a dog or a cat's calm nature can have a positive effect on your mood. Maybe it's because when a puppy pants and his tongue hangs out, it sort of looks like he's smiling, or when a kitten purrs and rubs her fur against your knee, you feel a sense of warmth. It's not uncommon for people to overlook animals and take their furry companions for granted, but if you think about how pet therapy works, it's a very real and extremely effective option for those who struggle with depression and anxiety.
For reasons I'll never fully understand, a lot of people assume that because pets are pets, they are automatically unintelligent and beneath us. But it's simply not true. Genuine animal lovers and pet owners recognize that domesticated animals have the ability to provide an unyielding sense of trust, loyalty, and love that surpasses the verbal communication we engage in with friends and family.
Of course, this isn't to say the bond between two people can't measure up to that of owner and pet, but still, it cannot be denied that animals can significantly affect your mental and physical well-being.
1. Pets Can Sense When Something Is Mentally Or Physically Wrong With Their Owners
For example, I recently experienced a horrible infection that left me bed- and couch-ridden for days. Normally, my cat Aria prowls around the apartment, doing her own thing, but during this time, she would lay next to me instead, glued to my side, purring and cuddling.
Licensed clinical social worker Carol Calkins tells Elite Daily,
Pets, if desired and wanted, have limitless possibilities to move a person forward with issues that he or she may be having. Those issues may include depression, anxiety, trauma, obsessive compulsive problems, and/or addiction. Many individuals have more than one of these roadblocks. Animals provide a different kind of communication with humans, one that is not verbal, but more focused on nonverbal senses of love and trust. One doesn't need to explain what is being felt, but merely to bask in the very present love and comfort provided.
Of course, there are plenty of instances when I wish Aria could understand the English language and stop scratching at her litter box, or quit dropping her toy mouse in her water bowl, but there's really something incredibly beautiful about the unspoken bond between pet and pet owner. I know I wouldn't trade it for the world.
2. Studies Show There's Literal Chemistry Between You And Your Pet
I wasn't sold on the idea that you can have a love-at-first-sight moment with a pet -- until my husband brought home our cat Aria from the shelter. I had told him to be on the lookout for a newborn kitten, but he said once Aria looked at him, he knew she was meant to be ours. It turns out this exchange was really just science doing its damn thing.
Paula Felps, Live Happy science editor, tells Elite Daily that, according to a 2015 study, the emotional connection between a pet and their owner can be seen when they lock eyes (go figure):
Just looking into our dogs' eyes can release oxytocin, also known as the 'love hormone' or the 'cuddle chemical.' That gives us a rush of love and compassion, and helps us feel more trusting and relaxed. The feeling of love and companionship we get from our pets is immediate and lasting, so it really can help us feel better all day, every day.
I can't be the only one who just got chills from reading that.
3. Pet Owners Are Proven To Be Happier, Healthier People
We all know companionship is a key component to living a happy life, but there's something especially unique about the friendship between human and pet.
During a series of experiments from 2011 published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers concluded that, in addition to human bonds, pets can offer their owners social, mental, and physical support and, by doing so, they can also encourage us to have stronger, more positive relationships with other people.
Allen R. McConnell, PhD reported for Psychology Today,
One thing that we know about close, important others in our lives (e.g., spouses, best friends) is that they become 'included in the self.' That is, key people in our lives actually become enmeshed cognitively and emotionally in our self-concept. Healthy individuals empathize with close others in their lives, adopting their perspective and sharing their feelings instinctively. Our work demonstrated that pets can function similarly -- they become as much a part of the self as many family members, which undoubtedly, contributes to their power in promoting our health and happiness.
4. You'll Need A Letter Of Validation To Register Your Own Animal As A Service Pet
I absolutely consider spending the night cuddling with my cat or playing fetch with my sister's dog to be a therapeutic experience. But in order for an animal to be officially registered as a therapy pet, you're going to need a doctor's approval.
Calkins explains to Elite Daily that, in order for a pet to be considered part of an individual's treatment, or a legitimate source of emotional support, the owner and pet "must have a licensed mental health professional/medical professional provide a letter to validate the necessity" of the animal.
In other words, you have to get it in writing. Once you do, though, there are major perks for registered therapy pets, the big one being you can basically take your fur baby anywhere and everywhere.
According to the National Service Animal Registry, once you are registered, you and your pet are protected under The Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires "all businesses that serve the public to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals with them," including restaurants, hotels, retail stores, sports arenas, planes, and more.
In short, your pet gets to travel the world, and you stay happy and healthy. Sounds like a win to me.