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How Pet Therapy Can Make a Difference for Elderly and Terminally Ill Patients


Lifestyle Improvement

Posted On: Nov 06, 2014

Pet Therapy for Terminally Ill Patients

If you’ve recently caught your furry best friend with a chewed up pair of slippers and a guilty look in her eyes, it might be tough to believe at first that pets have been show to actually reduce anxiety. But research has shown that just the act of petting a dog or cat can have measurable health effects in humans, such as lowered blood pressure. Based on these ideas, pets have been used in all kinds of therapeutic situations, from children’s hospitals to hospice care.

                Hospice work is a type of care that is designed to make the last weeks and days of a terminally ill patient’s life as comfortable as possible. Even if the terminally ill patient has accepted their fate as much as possible, there is still a level of anxiety that might be difficult to overcome. Pet therapy, sometimes called animal-assisted therapy, has the ability to provide a calming effect for patients going through this period. Just the sight of a friendly dog or cat and the touch of its soft fur is enough to significantly reduce anxiety levels in patients.

Pet therapy for patients

                Therapy animals can come to the patient in several different ways. If the patient is a resident at a senior care or hospice facility, the organization might work with a qualified animal-assisted therapy agency that brings in dogs or cats on a regular basis. If the elderly patient is receiving home assistance or hospice care at home, the agency can bring the pets to the patient’s home. Sometimes a facility will have a resident animal that lives on the grounds. In these cases, the animal will have a designated caretaker to make sure it’s well taken care of at all times.

                Not just any dog or cat can be a therapy pet. Pets used for animal-assisted therapy are specially trained to make the most of the therapy session. Pets may be used as diversions for certain types of treatment that usually provoke anxiety. But they may also be trained with standard pet tricks such as fetching a ball. This creates an interactive type of activity that is relaxing and therapeutic for the patient. Training a dog to respond to verbal commands from a patient can also be helpful in providing a level of companionship at this difficult time.

                Even those patients who might not be dog or cat people can still feel at ease and enjoy all of the benefits during animal-assisted therapy. Before an animal can become a therapy pet, it is usually required to live with the same owner for at least six months. Pets under one year of age are not recommended, as they are still in the puppy or kitten phase. Dogs should be able to sit, stay, and heel. And of course, pets are required to be calm, well socialized, and friendly toward people. Any growling, hissing, scratching, or biting will immediately disqualify an animal from becoming a therapy pet.