The Remarkable Benefits of Pet Therapy in Health Care


April 11th is national pet day–what a perfect day to talk about Pet Therapy, one of the unique programs at Bluebird Health for the hospice program. Pets can not only provide companionship to people; they can be part of the healing process when someone is sick or even at the end-of-life stage.  That’s why pet therapy is one of the research-backed programs offered to hospice patients.

What is

Pet Therapy?

The Bluebird program offers patients time to interact with furry visitors who come in with their owners.  The dogs enliven the daily routine and provide limitless affection. Many patients have had pets all their lives and may miss animals.


Pet Therapy Benefits

Mental Health Benefits for patients

According to a Harris poll from 2015, 95% of animal owners think of their pet as part of the family.  It’s no wonder that a pet can bring health benefits such as relaxation and reduced anxiety.  But the pet therapy benefits go deeper. According to UCLA Health, simply petting an animal releases serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin.  You may have heard of these essential hormones before.  They are all critical in elevating mood.  But according to research, a pet also reduces loneliness, increases mental stimulation, and provides a happy distraction. 

Physical Benefits of Pet Therapy

In addition to the mental health benefits, there are also physical benefits of pet therapy.  Patients have been shown to have lowered blood pressure and improved cardio health.  Some people need less medication after comprehensive pet therapy.  Breathing slows in those who are anxious.  Another mood hormone released is called Phenylethylamine.  You might be familiar with this hormone if you are a chocolate eater—chocolate releases the same hormone. 

Additionally, pet therapy allowed participants to relax more during exercise.  Could this be the reasoning behind goat yoga?

In the UCLA research, during exercise therapy sessions, participants were motivated, enjoyed the sessions more, and felt the atmosphere of the session was less stressful during Animal-Assisted therapy.

“Animal-assisted therapy can significantly reduce pain, anxiety, depression, and fatigue in people with a range of health problems”

I suspect dog owners can relate to this. Walking your dog each day differs significantly from just going for a walk. The companionship and sense of duty when walking Fido makes the trek far more enjoyable.

Further Research On Pet Therapy

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Animal-assisted therapy can significantly reduce pain, anxiety, depression, and fatigue in people with a range of health problems:”

  • Children having dental procedures
  • People receiving cancer treatment
  • Patients in long-term care facilities
  • Those with cardiovascular diseases
  • Folks with dementia
  • Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder
  • People with anxiety

This makes pet therapy particularly well-suited as a palliative care offering for hospice patients.

Training for Pet Therapy

However, not just any dog can be a therapy dog.  There are specific requirements that an animal must comply with to be a certified therapy animal.  Most often, dogs, the team of human-doggy participants should be over 18 for the human, and the dog should be over one. 

  1. Your dog should be pretty laid back in all situations to be a good therapy dog.  They should be calm in the busy atmosphere of a hospital and also with strangers petting them. They need to be very clean and up-to-date on all vaccinations.
  2. Next, you’ll have a tester/observer qualify your dog’s manners, demeanor, and handling skills.
  3. Your final test will be to visit three residents in medical facilities.  The tester/observer will tag along. The facilities might be nursing homes, hospitals, hospices, etc.

After passing these tests, paperwork follows, and your team is certified!

Pet Therapy in Hospice and Long-Term Health Care

As you can see, pet therapy can be beneficial for someone in a healthcare environment.  We offer this service to our patients because it has helped them and their families.  If you would like to include pet therapy in your hospice treatment plan, let your social worker know or any care team member.  Bluebird Health is raising the bar for home health and hospice care.

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