Ferret Care

Stress in Animal Assisted Therapy  

Some therapists use dogs or other animals not as much to improve the quality of life, but to stimulate interest in patients who might not otherwise engage in therapeutic activities that would improve the quality of their lives. By their very nature for example, dogs are social creatures, and have a natural ability to bring out our own social ability and interest. By stimulating a patient’s interest, therapists and other healthcare providers were more likely to see a reduction in stress among patients, but also among therapists who were entering a stressful environment to begin with.  


Consider a dog as a “stress mediator” if you like, a companion that acts to introduce two people who can, when working together, create and forge a mutually beneficial relationship. Do not however, rely on an animal alone to conquer your stress. Pets, like humans, experience feelings, including anxiety, anger and fear.  


It is important to note that animals like people are subject to stress, and not all animals are ideally suited for pet therapy. 


There are now stringent testing and training centres available for people or practitioners interested in evaluating their pet for use in official AAT programs. While you do not have to “formally” train your pet if you want to consider your pet your own personal therapist, you will have to certify your pet by an acknowledged program if you plan to use your pet as an official part of an AAT program.  


Now, let’s talk some more about stress, because this is an important topic to consider when evaluating pet therapy. Some studies have shown that animals participating in AAT programs may experience unusually high levels of stress. This may result from programs that are very intense and where animals must engage in vigorous interaction with non-compliant or otherwise stressed individuals. It is very important in these situations that pet owners or animal assisted therapists consider not only the patient or recipient’s needs, but also that of the animal.  


If an animal is consistently exposed to an overwhelmingly stressful environment, they too might “act out” or require therapy to help alleviate the stress they may be feeling.  


Exposing a mild-tempered animal for example to an aggressive child might induce stress in the animal, so it is important animals and their owners or therapists are prepared to handle adverse events as this. While not all animals will qualify as good “pet therapists” the good news is it is relatively easy to pre-screen animals and test them to assess whether they will handle stressful situations with ease, or whether they are best left as simply “pets” and not “therapists.”  


Even in these cases pet owners will likely reap many of the benefits associated with pet therapy, because beloved animals are the most likely creatures on earth to reciprocate love and affection. 


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