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Animal Assisted Therapy Benefits for Health

Animal Assisted Therapy

What is Animal Assisted Therapy ?

Animal Assisted Therapy  (AAT) is a methodology designed to improve the cognitive, physical, social and emotional functioning of a patient, with specific objectives and, delimited over time.

The AAT includes all the programs to be reached, that propose a therapeutic goal with the participation of joint therapy (animal-patient-therapist).

Several studies have shown that health professionals, who rely on animals in the development of their therapeutic work, obtain positive changes in their patients.

Animal Assisted Therapy is used in various population segments, whether in children with autism, adolescents with rebellious behavior, older adults with dementia, people with neuropsychological disorders, patients with psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, and people with physical disability, among others.

In which problems or pathologies is Animal Assisted Therapy used?

There are several types of pathologies in which animals play a valuable role. Likewise, for each pathology, the appropriate and specific therapy is applied, depending on the patient condition.

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For example, occupational therapy focuses on treating people with the following conditions:

  • Psychopedagogics, for children who suffer behavioral problems, either at home or at school.
  • Psychotherapeutics, for people with behavioral, emotional or mental problems.
  • Physiotherapeutics, for people with physical disabilities, spasticities (a type of motor disorder) mobility problems, etc.

Animal Assisted Therapy

Another way of therapy is training and learning of animal handling, since the mental, emotional and behavioral health of the trainer (patient) is very important to obtain favorable results.

There is also emotional therapy to relieve depressive or similar symptoms. This is usually done with the assistance of dogs, which are able to help in the recovery of patients in geriatric residences, prisons, hospitals, children’s oncology areas, etc.

On the other hand, there are also animals that work with blind or deaf people; patients with risk of heart attack; hypoglycemic or epileptic people; among others.

These animals, in addition to keeping their owners company, are working to take care of them at all times.

Also, there are other cases in which animal assisted therapy has been shown to be effective. These are, therapies for:

  • Children with language problems
  • Adolescents with emotional problems
  • Adults with stress
  • Older adults with cognitive problems
  • Victims of violence or abuse
  • Neuropsychological patients
  • Couples
  • Vulnerable groups

Animal Assisted Therapy  for autistic children

While it is true, children can express quite positive emotions with animals, we could not say that it is a 100 percent cure. However, AAT helps people with autism have greater eye contact and  more expression of will and emotions. In addition, these patients achieve greater acceptance of reality, regardless of the reality they need to feel safe.

 What animals are used  in Animal Assisted Therapy?

To obtain good results in assisted therapy, it is mainly required that they be animals close to humans. The animals most used for this purpose are dogs, horses, cats, domestic rabbits, guinea pigs, fishes or any animal adapted to live with us.  The type of animal chosen depends on the therapeutic goals of each treatment plan.

Mostly, specialized centers in AAT work with the help of our canine and equine friends. For this reason, we will delve into both to know the benefits that nobly they give us.

Objectives and Benefits of Dog Assisted Therapy

There are many studies that support the benefits of this therapeutic practice. Alzheimer’s patients, patients with AIDS, children with autism, patients with depression or elderly who are alone, benefit from this type of therapy.

Therapy with dogs has several objectives, both, in rehabilitation and learning, since it is useful at the psychological, cognitive or psychomotor level. Additionally, this helps to improve communication, which has a direct positive effect on the socialization of patients.

Dog Assisted Therapy

The objectives are varied, but in a general way, they are focused on:

  • Enhance communication and personal relationship skills
  • Improve self-esteem and autonomy
  • Encourage to perform specific motor activities, such as pampering, brushing, etc.
  • Improve relationships and social skills (empathy, greeting, caring for others, etc.)
  • Reduce the states of anxiety and depression
  • Encourage a sense of responsibility

On the other hand, the benefits of dog-assisted therapy are also numerous. These help the patient to overcome psychological and physical conditions. Some of them are:

Psychological benefits
  • Improve the mood
  • Help improve attention deficit (used for children with ADHD)
  • Antidote for depression and monotony
  • Avoid feelings of sadness and loneliness
  • Decrease anxiety and stress
  • Develp social and physical contact
  • Promotes incentive and motivation
  • Create a positive and pleasant patient-dog bond
  • Dogs give us unconditional love, accept us as we are
  • Encourage mental stimulation
Psychomotor benefits
  • Favors the increase of muscular strength, improving motor skills
  • Improve coordination
  • It develops fine motor skills, thanks to the movements necessary to pet the dog, fix it, feed it, etc.
Educational benefits
  • Improves social skills (empathy, respect, communication, etc.)
  • Helps to understand the importance of collaboration, commitment and teamwork
  • Reduce unwanted behavior
  • Promotes learning through play
Sensory benefits
  • Helps increase proprioception
  • Promotes the development of the vestibular system
  • Works the senses and provides auditory, visual and tactile stimuli

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Benefits of Horse Assisted Therapy

Like many other therapies, horse therapy or equinetherapy is not an invention of the modern era.

The benefits of  horse movements to alleviate certain diseases, were already known to the Greeks.

Hippocrates,  mentioned the healthy effect of horse trotting, and in the 17th century, horsemanship was used to alleviate the effects of gout.

Equinetherapy experienced a great boom from the decades of 50 and 60. It was then when the method was developed that is used in our days, which is based on the direct relationship established between the patient and the movement of the animal.

Horse Therapy

For what diseases is Horse Assisted Therapy recommended?

Horse assisted therapy to treat emotional problems or certain diseases, have multiple benefits. Not only in terms of rehabilitation and mobility, but also in the field of psychology.

Some of the diseases for which the equinotherapy or hippotherapy is recommended and that have shown excellent results are:

  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Autism
  • Down’s Syndrome
  • Spina bifida
  • Brain trauma
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Behavioral problems
  • Neurodegenerative diseases
  • Traumatological diseases
  • Anorexy

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Not all therapies are recommended for any type of problem or illness. In this case, it is not advisable to use equinetherapy in people with:

  • Orthopedic problems
  • Allergies to horse hair
  • Hemophilia disorder
  • Seizure activity

What are the Goals and Benefits of Equinetherapy?

The objectives of equinetherapy or hippotherapy, are to get patients to obtain benefits in different areas, for example:

Psychological benefits

Improve self-esteem and self-confidence of the patient. Also, reduce feelings of insecurity and fear, which is very important to perform with confidence the daily routine.

Educational benefits

It helps improve memory and the ability to pay attention. On the other hand, it increases the vocabulary and improve verbal communication.

Physical Benefits

Equinotherapy strengthens the muscles, improves vertical and horizontal balance.  Besides,  improves motor coordination and helps to experience independent movement of the pelvis and shoulders.

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Patients also learn to take care of the horse, within their means and possibilities.

On the other hand, patients meet with people different from their usual environment. This creates friendly relationships with their peers and develops love and respect for animals.

All these benefits are due to the horse transmitting about 110 vibrations per minute. These vibrations act on the nervous system of the patient, which stimulate and help  in the rehabilitation process. 

Important points to consider in Horse Assisted Therapy

  • Therapy with horses can be done from 18 months of age, there is no age limit for their practice.
  • In no case is the goal of equinetherapy for the patient to learn to ride a horse.
  • When developed outdoors, this therapy allows the patient to enjoy the environment, being able to become a real fun.
  • Equinetherapy should be part of a comprehensive treatment that helps the patient in their problems, should not be considered as an isolated therapy.

Animal Assisted Therapy

What is the ideal horse to practice Equinotherapy?

The advisable horse for the practice of this therapy must measure from 1 to 1.70 meters of height and be between 5 and 20 years old.

In addition, the horse must have experience and a docile character and, of course, be used to people to never get scared.

The most important thing is to add a good training so that horses can be specially oriented for equinotherapy.

Finally, it is important to consider that many times the cure of our ills is around us. In the trees, the sea, in the animals, and even the sun, among others.

Modern life has distanced us from nature and unfortunately we have forgotten to interact with it.

Sometimes, the simple presence of a pet in our house, can give us a collective therapy, without being. In addition, by adopting a dog, cat or any other animal, we are not only self-benefiting, but also, we will be changing the destiny of that creature wonderfully.

Animal Assisted Therapy

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