Pets Provide Companionship and More

An Overall Boost
Cat In a survey taken by the American Animal Hospital Association, 57% of pets owners preferred the company of their pet to that of another human if they were stranded on an island. While we may think of our pets as trusted members of our family, these four-legged (or two-winged or gilled) companions serve another purpose. Pets not only provide companionship, but offer some a new lease on life. What are some of the therapeutic benefits pets and animals provide?

Pets make us feel safe, accepted, and happy. Their devotion and unconditional love boosts our mental and physical health.

During times of crisis or major stress, such as unemployment or prolonged illness, pets are an anchor or stable force that helps us cope. For senior citizens, a pet supplies companionship and affection, but also security and protection. Older adults who are pet owners are likely to be more alert, require fewer trips to the doctor, and are less likely to suffer from depression and loneliness.

Lower Blood Pressure
Dog Pet owners tend to be more physically active and have lower cholesterol than non-pet owners. An article in the American Journal of Cardiology points out that pet owners who had suffered a heart attack had a better survival rate than non-pet owners.

In a study conducted by Dr. Karen Allen of the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo, stockbrokers who were given a pet reduced by half the increase in blood pressure from stress. Although the researchers were pleased with the results, they weren't surprised. The results supported what they already knew: It is beneficial to be with a pet in times of stress.

Results of the study appeared in various media and publications:

The Biology Gateways Human Circulatory System activities on Blood Pressure and Circulation and Effect of Exercise introduce how the circulatory system works. (Activities require Logal Express. Get a free trial subscription now.)


Animal-Assisted Activities or Therapy
Rabbits According to the Delta Society, an organization dedicated to promoting the beneficial relationships between animals and people, animal-assisted activities involve pets visiting people for the purpose of motivational or recreational purposes, such as bringing animals to visit nursing homes. Therapeutic goals may or may not be set for the activity.

Animal-assisted therapy on the other hand is goal oriented and is designed to meet criteria as part of an overall treatment program.

The benefits of both activity and therapy:

  • promotes empathy and nurturing skills
  • encourages socialization and communication
  • provides physical and emotional contact in a non-threatening way

The organization sponsors several programs including the National Service Dog Center (NSDC), which provides animals trained to discriminate sounds such as phones, smoke alarms, and sirens for those with hearing impairments. And for individuals with motor impairments, a service animal may retrieve items, close or open doors, carry items in a backpack, or even pull a wheelchair.

Therapeutic Riding
HorseHorses have been used in rehabilitation in the U.S. since the 1960s, but references to the benefits of horseback riding date back to the 1600s. Using a horse to reach therapeutic goals--which may be physical, cognitive, or emotional in nature--benefits individuals with a variety of disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, and spinal cord injuries.

Working with a team comprised of trainers, volunteers, speech, physical, or occupational therapists, and perhaps behavioral specialists, the rider gains physical and psychological benefits from the movement and gait of a horse.

Riding consists of a standard lesson in combination with other movements to improve functioning and skills. The benefits of therapeutic riding include:

  • improved balance, coordination, and posture
  • increased flexibility and strength
  • improved confidence and self-esteem

There are over 500 therapeutic riding centers around the country. A good resource is the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NAHRA). Their site includes a directory of riding centers as well as FAQs and links to other organizations.

Soothing Waters
Fish What if you're allergic to dogs, cats, or horses? In a Purdue University study of patients with Alzheimer's disease, it was shown that those patients exposed to aquariums were more relaxed, alert, and had a better appetite. There were other benefits related to behavior and attention span as well.

The peaceful nature of an aquarium has such a calming or soothing effect that just watching a tank full of fish can lower blood pressure temporarily. More and more fish tanks are finding their way into waiting rooms, nursing homes, schools, and libraries.

Related Resources

Return to Top