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The Power of Pet Therapy in Hospice

Posted: 10/22/2021 12:25 PM by Interim HealthCare

So, the old saying goes, a dog is a man’s best friend. But when it comes to pet therapy, a man’s best friend could be a dog, cat, or even a pony – whatever may provide comfort to someone who needs the simplicity of a wagging tail or a gentle presence.

For many, just the thought of receiving healthcare can evoke feelings of anxiety or uncertainty and fears of uncomfortable environments. Pet therapy can offer a welcome reprieve from tense situations and may allow a patient and their family to refocus their thoughts, even if just for a moment, on something other than the medical treatment they are receiving at home or in a healthcare facility.
 
What is pet therapy?
Pet therapy is so much more than just a visit from a friendly animal – it can help with all aspects of healing the mind, body, and spirit. Commonly performed in hospice settings, pet therapy uses the natural bond between humans and animals to provide comfort, peace and soothing companionship to terminally ill patients and their families.
The beauty of pet therapy is that it can occur in any setting where hospice care is being provided.
 
Who visits with the pet and when do they come?
Many hospice providers have designated pet therapy teams who visit with patients at the same time every day or week. The handler and their pet could also be on standby when a visit is requested by a new patient or their loved ones.
Pets and their handlers can visit wherever they are requested and permitted, in the home, in a hospital, nursing homes, or rehabilitation centers.
 
What happens during a pet therapy visit?
The goal of a pet therapy visit is often determined ahead of time with the patient’s provider or physician. A typical pet therapy visit involves a pet being brought into a patient’s home or hospital room by their handler. The patient is introduced to the animal and its handler, and the handler will generally ask the patient if they would like to pet the animal or interact with them. Patients may enjoy talking to the animal or even watching it perform tricks.

The rest of the visit is typically guided by the comfort level of the patient receiving the pet therapy.
Pet therapy can last as long as the handler has time for, or as long as the patient desires. It may seem simple, but clinical studies show the very act of petting an animal can reduce blood pressure and calm an anxious mind or agitated patient.
 
What are the benefits of pet therapy?
Pet therapy can provide immense emotional benefits to an individual patient. Pet therapy benefits the patient’s caregivers, too. Even healthcare workers who are under intense stress enjoy and benefit from pet therapy.

Studies show pet therapy provides the following physical and physiological health benefits:

Physical Health Benefits

  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Improves cardiovascular health
  • Releases endorphins that have a soothing effect
  • Lessens overall physical pain
  • The act of petting produces an automatic relaxation response

Mental Health Benefits

  • Lifts spirits and lessens depression and anxiety
  • Reduces feelings of isolation
  • Encourages communication
  • Provides comfort
  • Increases socialization and sense of community
  • Creates motivation for the patient to recover quicker 

How can I request pet therapy?
Many hospice providers offer some form of pet therapy. If you’re interested in requesting a pet therapy visit for yourself or a loved one, ask your local hospice provider if they offer this service or if they can connect you to someone who does.
 
How can I become a pet therapy volunteer?
If you’d like to volunteer with a pet therapy program, check with a local hospice provider to see if they offer pet therapy. If they don’t, you could even start your own program with fellow handlers in your area.

You may want to check with your local healthcare facilities to find out if they require training from a particular institution. The best way to find out how you and your pet can become certified is to search local pet therapy certification programs. There are multiple certification programs in every state.

Learn More About Our Pet Therapy Services.