Therapeutic effect of animals on our health and psyche

The positive effect of cohabitation and coexistence of humans with animals has been known since the beginning of time, when humans began to domesticate various species. With animals is possible to affect a wide range of physical and mental human problems. Nowadays, when humanity finds things discovered long time ago, we are surprised by the brilliance of these methods, which are based on the nature and laws of nature.

Rhythm of modern civilization separated man from nature has changed our everyday life rhythm, so that these changes unfortunately often lead to increase of a stress and other mental and physical difficulties. Animal therapy, also known as an animal assisted therapy uses the positive effect of a therapeutic contact between animals and humans.

We can divide animal assisted therapy according to type of animal, used for the therapeutic treatment and according to usage of animal assisted therapy; we can divide the effects to mental or physical influence.

Types and forms animal assisted therapy

Among the best-known and most common types of animal assisted therapy, that we can meet belongs:

  • Canine therapy - therapeutic use of the dogs
  • Feline therapy - therapeutic use of cats
  • Hippo therapy and hippo rehabilitation - therapeutic use of horses

Less known and less widespread types of therapy with animals are:

  • Bird-therapy - therapeutic use for birds
  • Llama-therapy - therapeutic use of llamas (often within Occupational Therapy - Occupational Therapy)
  • Dolphin-therapy - the use of the therapeutic action of dolphins
  • Therapy with the small animals - most commonly used aquarium fish, reptiles, various small mammals (hamsters, guinea pigs, ferrets) - for breeding and contact with animals
  • Therapy with farm animals - (sheep, goats, pigs, cows ...) - used primarily in the context of occupational therapy and farm therapy for people with psychosocial problems. Therapeutic farms are widespread in the world as a means to help people to return to the natural biorhythm and respect for the environment.

These kind of therapies can be father divided on Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), where the animal is part of the therapeutic process and Animal Assisted Activities which is passive form (positively influence of the mere presence of an animal – for example an aquarium with fish in the waiting room at the hospital consulting room). In the interactive form – resident, where the animal lives in the sanatorium permanently and part of the therapeutic effect may be caring for the animals (for these reasons are mainly used cats, rabbits). A interactive form – visiting, when the therapist, usually at the same time a owner of the animal, is visiting an institution (usually it is a dog – canine therapy).

Effect of animals on humans

Animal assisted therapy is a kind of therapeutic action, which utilizes the presence of the animal. The mere presence of a living creature usually causes lull and client usually starts to feel secure. This therapy not only reduces stress and tension, it is proven that it even reduces blood pressure. The animal also has the ability to evoke strong emotions in humans and thereby promotes mental stimulation, animal also relaxes the communication and generally support mental and physical state of the client. Utilization of this effect is actually a wide.

Through the animal can also be easier to establish a therapeutic relationship between therapist and client.

History of animal assisted therapy

The history of man has always been connected with domestic animals. Over the years had developed between man and animal, a kind of "social symbiosis". Currently, this relation has lost much of its commonplace, on the one hand, the numbers of domestic animals are increasing, and on the other hand, our distance from nature is increasing too.

Since ancient times people have used the healing and positive effect, which they have from contact with animals in many different ways. Among the first and used domesticated animals belong dogs and some farm livestock. Since the eighth century AD, we can find references about the fact that people were using dogs for various therapeutic purposes.

Canine therapy

Canine therapy is a one of form of animal assisted therapy, which uses a positive influence of the dogs on psyche and physical health of the child or adult. Health is meant exactly by the definition of health organization "World Health Organization" (WHO) as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being. The successes of this method are significant and subjectively positively evaluated, but also objectively measurable. People in the presence of an animal starting to feel better, come to life, are happier and smarter, because they forget their problems or pain and their physical and psychological condition is improving.

Dogs communicate among themselves mainly by body language, be able to clearly read the body language of the other dog or other animal was for them in the question of being able to survive in the wild. The dog is the oldest domesticated animal and during that time it had lived with the people, it have learned to read body language of humans very well. Dogs, who were raised in close contact with the people, have considerable ability to empathize with the mental and physical condition of a person and act accordingly to it. They are also able instinctively respect the biological age of man.

In the therapy itself is then very crucial therapist who leads the whole therapy, the determining factor is his well-founded and responsible approach to the treatment and the nature and the training of the dog. Therapy takes place individually or in groups, but always under the supervision of the dog handler - specialized therapist or also Canine therapist.

Canine therapy is appropriate to use for children with physical or mental disabilities, children with multiple disabilities, but also for children who are physically healthy but suffer from psychological disorders, behavioural problems, depression, apathy, or are from emotionally impoverished backgrounds. This therapy is widely used during the therapy with abused children. Good results are achieved when it is used in therapy with children - oncology sick patients.

Therapies with dogs are also used successfully in geriatrics. In retirement homes or homes for long-term care is often lacking tactile stimuli. Dog or other animal can fulfil the human need for a touch, physical contact, or cuddles. It is part of a complex therapy in geriatrics (dementia, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, depression, maladjustment, loss of reason for living ...). Furthermore, it can be successfully used in establishing contact with difficult clients, with client who have problems with communication, in working with mentally or sensory disabled clients, or it can be helpful with some patients with psychiatric diagnoses (anxiety, depression, phobias. It is also useful in speech therapy and rehabilitation practice (here mainly as a motivational element), or in case of the occurrence of apathy.

Probably the most common use of the work canine therapeutic dog is called "positioning dogs". Extremely highly successful is canine therapeutic positioning and warming in the same time that leads to muscle relaxation client. Visible results of this method can be seen among clients who suffer from muscle spasms and tremors. One can react not only on the body temperature of the dog (which is several degrees higher than human temperature), but also on the rhythm of the heart and breath, which is used in relaxing therapy with the dogs. During such relaxation, the client calms down overall and very often his blood pressure and mood will adjust.

During each such canine therapeutic session must be present canine therapist or even physiotherapist. For this therapy are used only dogs with canine therapeutic training and with authorized certificate accompanied with the person for whom the certificate was issued.

When using this method, it is necessary to take into account allergies to animal coat and saliva, or pathological fear of dogs. For this kind of therapeutic work with children is always required parental agreement.

Feline therapy

In the Czech Republic is feline therapy or the therapy with cat less known term. It is not so extended treatment method, such as canine or hippo therapy. It would be big mistake to ignore its benefits and positive effects. Its use is ideal in the treatment of neuroses, stress, restlessness, treatment of psychological difficulties, feelings of restlessness and anxiety.

Indisputable advantage of feline therapy is that it can also take place in the limited available spaces.

Hippo therapy and Hippo rehabilitation

The main client group that uses the therapeutic effects of horses or hippo therapy and hippo rehabilitation are children with cerebral palsy. This treatment is also suitable for clients with impaired mobility of various kinds - scoliosis, disturbed or restriction mobility due to various illnesses and injuries, loss of limbs, and so on. Hippo therapy is essentially a method of physical therapy, which uses the natural movement and gait of the horse. It uses a transmission of movements of horseback on the client. The client takes on a horse in such a position that corresponds to its capabilities, i.e. if is the patient unable to stay in a sitting position, he lies down or with the support of the forearm. The horse has a similar motion stereotype as a person. So in this type of therapy is central nervous system of humans forced to respond to it and process the sensations and impulses, as it would be for a normal human gait.

While we are riding the horse, we are forced to maintain balance and control our movement, which has a positive effect on strengthening the coordination of movements, strengthening the stability, so it can lead to increasing the mobility of the client. The temperature of the horse helps to physical relaxation, because of this action emerges overall mental calmness and relaxation of mental and physical condition. Like in the case of feline therapy and animal assisted therapy, hippo therapy has also psychotherapeutic effect.

Animal assisted therapy is a complementary method to support health and it is suitable for children, adults, and seniors. Contact with animals brings mental relaxation and well-being and overall positive effect on physical and mental state. Animals simply can heal us and keep us in a better psychological wellbeing. Therapies with animals support the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive functions.


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