What are Therapy Animals?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster
Niki Foster
Niki Foster
Boston terriers are often used for therapy.
Boston terriers are often used for therapy.

Therapy animals are used to promote many facets of well being, from the mental to the physical. Research has shown that having pets can contribute to a longer healthier life, and therapy animals help offer similar benefits to people without their own pets. They visit hospitals, convalescent homes, day care centers, schools, prisons, and disaster areas to bring comfort and affection to a wide variety of people who can benefit from it.

Rabbits can serve as therapy animals.
Rabbits can serve as therapy animals.

A therapy animal must undergo training and, in the United States, can be evaluated by and registered with a national organization. They are not service animals, such as the guide dogs that assist the blind, and usually work with a number of patients instead of assisting just one person. Service animals must undergo much more extensive training than therapy animals and often have the legal right to accompany their owners in areas in which other animals are not allowed.

Dolphin therapy typically includes swimming with the mammals.
Dolphin therapy typically includes swimming with the mammals.

Many different species and breeds can be therapy animals, even mixed breeds. Dogs are perhaps the most common, but cats, rabbits, birds, potbelly pigs, guinea pigs, reptiles, dolphins, and horses are among those that can also serve as therapy animals. No matter what species, a therapy animal must be calm, patient, friendly, and gentle. They must enjoy human contact and be comfortable with strangers of varying ages, temperaments, abilities, and stages of health.

Golden Retrievers make excellent therapy dogs.
Golden Retrievers make excellent therapy dogs.

One of the first therapy animals was Smoky, a Yorkshire Terrier used to cheer up wounded American soldiers during World War II. The systematic use of therapy animals began in 1976, when American nurse Elaine Smith began a program to bring animals to institutions after her experience as a nurse in England. While there, Smith noticed that her patients benefited from visits from a chaplain who brought along his pet Golden Retriever. Golden Retrievers remain one of the most popular animals for therapy due to their gentle, upbeat disposition.

Therapy animals include guinea pigs.
Therapy animals include guinea pigs.

Animal companionship can help lower blood pressure and stress, as well as alleviate loneliness and depression. they have been shown to help children with autism and other behavioral developmental disorders to become more attentive and communicative. Therapy animals can encourage patients to exercise and offer unconditional love, boosting self-esteem and security. They can also promote communication between people, as they provide everyone in their presence with a common bond. Petting and playing with an animal offers many people a feeling of closeness and companionship that they have difficulty finding with other humans because of their specific life situation or disability.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discuss this Article

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register:
    • Boston terriers are often used for therapy.
      Boston terriers are often used for therapy.
    • Rabbits can serve as therapy animals.
      Rabbits can serve as therapy animals.
    • Dolphin therapy typically includes swimming with the mammals.
      Dolphin therapy typically includes swimming with the mammals.
    • Golden Retrievers make excellent therapy dogs.
      Golden Retrievers make excellent therapy dogs.
    • Therapy animals include guinea pigs.
      Therapy animals include guinea pigs.
    • Therapy dogs must know basic commands before they can begin working with people.
      Therapy dogs must know basic commands before they can begin working with people.
    • Potbelly pigs may serve as therapy animals.
      Potbelly pigs may serve as therapy animals.
    • Many therapy horses work with children.
      Many therapy horses work with children.
    • A therapy animal should be calm, friendly and gentle.
      A therapy animal should be calm, friendly and gentle.
    • Therapy animals are not service animals, such as the guide dogs that assist the blind.
      Therapy animals are not service animals, such as the guide dogs that assist the blind.
    • Dolphin therapy may be used to treat those with autism or post-traumatic stress disorder.
      Dolphin therapy may be used to treat those with autism or post-traumatic stress disorder.