by Krishna Bora on  August 21, 2012 at 12:41 PM Health Watch
Pet Therapy - An Alternative Treatment for Depression
The bond between animals and human beings is evident from ancient times in all civilizations. Sometimes the relationship becomes deep and unconditional. Keeping this physical, emotional and mental bond in observation, researchers have devised a new form of treatment, known as Pet Therapy or Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT).

Animal-Assisted Therapy is a form of treatment involving animals as a form of treatment. It is needed in cases where people are depressed for a long period of time after a traumatic incident post loss of dear ones or post war trauma for soldiers. The goal is to improve the patient's emotional, social and cognitive functioning. Animals used in such therapy are pet animals like dogs, cats, lamb, fishes or other domesticated animals. In pet therapy, it is observed that the patients form an unconditional bond with their pet, which makes them happy and releases hormones that improve their immunity. Pet therapy is also known to help children cope with autism and similar disorders that tend to isolate the child from others.

Unlike us humans, animals know no boundaries of friendship. They are capable of  reaching out to all classes, caste and gender of people in this world.  They require attention and are dependent on their masters for food, shelter and grooming.  Animals are single minded who just give love and expect nothing in return.  They don't notice or care if their master is impaired in some way or handicapped. By being involved in exercises and daily routine with their pets, patients tend to take their minds off stressful or traumatic thoughts for some time. This results in reduced stress, reduced anxiety, hence normal blood pressure and also boosts immune system.

Not all animals are involved in pet therapy. Animals such as dogs and cats are trained to interact more protectively with the patient. Dogs are trained in such a way that they give a gentle poke to the patient if they are lost in bad memories or are stressed. Patients feel more relaxed and less distressed when a calm pet is next to them.

In case of horses, it is observed that they perceive and respond to their masters' reactions during trail rides. They just don't react; they also reflect the mood of the person handling them. In cases where the rider is in relaxed and joyous mood, the horse will mimic that and if the rider's mood is negative, they reflect the same. Generally horses and ponies are gentle creatures that behave well in human company and even like to be stroked. Horses used in pet therapy are trained from young, by exposing them to distracting sights and sounds. This is done in order to help the horses overcome their natural instinct of fight-or-flight and stay with the patient even if the patient feels disturbed for some reason.

Studies show that Pet Therapy works best with the post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients. Majority of pets involved in treatment are various breeds of dogs, specifically trained to deal with PTSD patients. The results of a few studies conducted on Animal-assisted therapy involving PTSD patients say that the stress level of such patients reduces by 82% when they have a pet dog with them as compared to those patients who don't have any pet animal at all. By being encouraged by such findings the Department of Defense USA has decided to invest $300,000 in further studies to explore the dynamics of animal assised therapy to cure the soldiers who are undergoing PTSD post wars.

Pet Therapy is scientifically and medically proven to cure many psychological and mental disorders in the era when people tend to depend on "pills". Hollywood actress Ashley Judd, was in depression seeing her sister Wynona Judd in rehabilitation center for addiction. This incident pushed her to long term depression. Her doctors suggested that she might benefit from Pet Therapy. As per their recommendation, she adopted a dog and showed magnificent recovery from her depression. This case has inspired many to opt for Pet Therapy during depression and PTSD. However, studies are still being conducted to check the efficacy of this treatment for depression and various other mental disorders where Pet Therapy can be used to restore balance in the affected person.

Source: Medindia

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