There are those who manage to fight insomnia with the help of a 4-legged friend and those who have chosen the blade to treat themselves. There is the prison that adopted a dog, those who rediscovered the particular qualities of the donkey and there is even a school, in Australia, that decided to entrust cats with the fight against stress from the performance of the students. Pet therapy, with its continuous progress and its various uses, is now much more than a therapy, and extends to more and more species and uses. In Italy, pending a special law, there are ministerial guidelines from 2015, which have the purpose of defining and regulating the activities of operators who perform this type of intervention, ensure users the specialization of therapists, dictate the rules for the safety of humans and animals.

WHAT IS PET THERAPY?

As the Ministry of Health explains in a section of its website entirely dedicated to this topic, it is “a complex series of uses of the man-animal relationship in the medical and psychological field”. In other words, and by clearing the field of improper use of “4-legged therapists”, the animal can be a mediator, a help to man. This ability, however, cannot be considered as a drug.

Several studies, in fact, have shown that some animal species induce in the human being a state of general well-being, joy, good humor, which in turn leads to an increase in metabolic activity, a reduction in blood pressure and an increase in immune defenses, but not only. Pet therapy has proved to be positive, for example, in psychological and ambulatory diseases and useful for the elderly afflicted by disabilities and loneliness, with good effects on the body and mood. The results of this type of treatment are a more toned body, the reduction of stress and insomnia, and a more elastic mind: according to recent studies these important results are linked to the fact that the link with the animal makes us release large amounts of oxytocin, the so-called “love hormone”, a hormone responsible for happiness whose presence helps us to be more confident, empathetic and is therefore partly responsible for our happiness.

WHERE IT IS PRACTICED

In Italy, thanks to the official approval of this therapy, and therefore since 2003, it is possible to benefit from it thanks to various associations accredited by the Ministry, in some hospital wards and in many rest homes. The Meyer Children’s Hospital in Florence, for example, has dedicated an entire weekly programme to this type of therapy: in fact, it has been noted that, in some cases, even very serious, the animal is the only source of joy for the young patient. Pet therapy has therefore been included in the rehabilitation programme.

The ministry invites, however, those who intend to rely on this discipline to inform themselves well about the actual skills of the therapist. Any good level centre must be able to produce the authorization received to carry out the activity, as well as the specialization of the various professional figures involved. Here is a selection of official centres distributed throughout the territory.

THE MOST “THERAPEUTIC” SPECIES

There are many animals that can bring benefits to man: whether it is a horse, a dog, a cat or another species chosen by those responsible for pet therapy programs, its presence awakens the interest of the man or woman who interacts with him, absorbs his attention, stimulates positive energy. And there are many areas of intervention.

The horse is considered one of the main aids in people suffering from autism, but also for the treatment of physical disabilities, thanks to its ability to bring into play and improve the nervous and muscular system of the human body.

The dog, thanks to its sociability, shows an extraordinary usefulness in therapies related in general to the difficulty of socialization and learning, but with good results also with patients suffering from Alzheimer’s or as an aid against depression.

The dolphin’s ability to help people closed in on themselves is also surprising: this animal is considered, together with the horse, to be one of the main aids for autistic subjects, particularly those of a young age. For the elderly, but also for people alone and with communication-relational problems, one of the ideal animals is the cat, whose presence helps to fight anxiety and stress. These are the best known and present in the centers where pet therapy is practiced, but the list is still long: there are the donkey, the rabbit, the turtle, the hamster, the canary, the fish, the cow and the goat.

THE IMPORTANCE OF GOOD TRAINING FOR OPERATORS

If, therefore, the main therapist is the animal, various professional figures revolve around it: it is certainly important that of the coadjutor, but a fundamental function for the success of his work also play the doctor, the psychologist, the veterinarian, the ethologist.

Once the project has been drawn up and the modalities of the intervention decided, a true multidisciplinary team will deal with the case. The legislation divides the so-called assisted interventions with animals (Iaa) into:

– Assisted therapies (Taa), for the treatment of physical, neuro and psychomotor, cognitive and relational disorders.

– Assisted education (Eaa), which supports and stimulates the relationship and social inclusion of people in difficulty.

– Assisted activities (Aaa), aimed at improving the quality of life and the relationship with the animal.

PET THERAPY AND CHILDREN’S GROWTH

Experts consider the animal important in the growth of the child. The child, in fact, expresses his emotions through play and enriches the tactile and gestural expressiveness: an animal can help him to achieve these results in a simple and natural way. Growing up with a cat or a dog gives responsibility, stimulates attention, accelerates the maturation of your child.

Pet therapy is not, therefore, just a particular way to get cured, and in fact it is not exclusively linked to a disease or a problem. Piutosto, is an effective way to understand how positive the animal can transmit: to children, the elderly, those who suffer, those who are stressed, those who have nothing special but will certainly benefit from the energy and positive messages transmitted by a 4-legged friend.

There are many vets who advise those who have a child, if there are logistical conditions, to adopt a dog or cat: the child will benefit, so will the rest of the family. Provided, of course, that special attention and love is paid to the newcomer: with controls, vaccines and appropriate care. And if the costs of the vet are excessive for your wallet, take a look at the insurance policies for pets: they offer assistance and, especially not to be underestimated, a fair financial saving. The health of our dog deserves attention and care: if then, given the benefits of pet therapy, it can also benefit our, the better.

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