An article on the beneficial effects of animals on people with mental disorders.
In recent years, doctors have begun recommending that their patients use animal therapy (also called "pet therapy") to improve the treatment of various diseases. This type of therapy is based on therapeutic contact between animals and humans. Interaction with animals helps speed up the rehabilitation process. People have long known the therapeutic abilities of cats, dogs, guinea pigs, elephants, horses, dolphins, etc.
The earliest known use of animal therapy is in ancient Greece, where some healing temples used sacred dogs to lick their wounds. Interestingly, both the Greek god of healing Asclepius and the Roman Aesculapius had animals devoted to them - a snake, a dog and a rooster. Dogs and cats are by far the most researched animals. Various studies show that dogs have a positive effect on patients with heart or blood pressure problems, and having dogs and cats in the home can help relieve stress, reduce psychological problems, and improve the nervous system. Dogs and cats are also thought to help ease asthma symptoms, get rid of skin conditions, and even help fight cancer.
Pet treatment is widely used in many rehabilitation centers for people with disabilities and for the elderly in nursing homes. Statistical studies from the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Research show that older dog owners are four times less likely to visit doctors than those without pets at home. Clinical psychologists are well aware that communication with animals can help relieve anxiety and depression, alleviate anger problems, and this is especially beneficial for people with autism and Asperger's Syndrome.
In the study, The Effect of Animal Therapy on Anxiety in Hospitalized Psychiatric Patients, Sandra Barker and Katherine Dawson, show a statistically significant reduction in anxiety scores after just one session of animal therapy for patients with psychotic disorders, mood disorders and other psychological illnesses. Among patients with psychotic disorders, those who participated in the therapy with animals had twice as many anxiety scores as those who participated in any other form of recreational activity.
Animal-assisted therapy is often used as part of multimodal treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but until recently, there was no scientific evidence of a beneficial effect of animal-assisted therapy on children with ADHD. Professor Sabrina Shack of the University of California, Irvine conducted a four-year study to see if animal-assisted therapy could help children with ADHD improve their social skills and control their symptoms. Initial results from this study suggest that specially trained dogs can help children with ADHD improve their social skills.