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The Therapeutic Power of Pets

The Therapeutic Power of Pets


Our pets always make us smile and have a therapeutic effect. This why they are increasingly being used in hospitals and care homes to alleviate a variety of conditions. There is no real surprise there and it is easy to see how a cute cat or adorable dog could weave their magic. But the NHS is now turning to a wider variety of animals to aid treatment including snakes and skunks!

Animal assisted therapy (AAT) is proving highly effective in easing a number of medical conditions. Qualified trainers take the animals to hospitals and care facilities so that they can interact with the patients. Conditions from bipolar disorder to Alzheimer’s can be addressed and sometimes with the most surprising creatures.




Skunks may sound like unlikely therapists but they are being used to calm patients who are suffering from schizophrenia. It turns out that people with paranoid schizophrenia get on well with skunks because they are a similar size to cats but will not jump onto the patients’ laps. Stroking the skunks releases endorphins which raise the spirits and interacting with the skunks distracts the patients from the voices they are hearing in their heads. The skunks do not spray their unpleasant odour as they do not feel threatened.




Patients with bipolar disorder are often attracted to snakes. The reptiles have a massaging effect as they slither across the body and large snakes provide the thrill that sufferers crave. A Burmese python might seem like an unlikely therapeutic aid but these reptiles can have a significant impact on the lives of bipolar disorder sufferers.


Ferrets, Tortoises and Chinchillas


Many dementia sufferers love to meet ferrets and tortoises as these animals were popular pets in the 1950s and 1960s. Elderly patients also love chinchillas because their soft fur provides can be a reminder of a much loved or much admired fur coat! Interacting with the animals can help memories to


Rabbits, Guinea Pigs and Rats


Rodents are the ideal visitors for those suffering with mental health issues who cannot cope with a huge amount of stimulation. These animals are relatively small and non-threatening but they are pleasant to stroke and so help patients to feel calm and relaxed.


The Future of AAT


The idea that pets are beneficial for their owner’s health is not a new one. But it is only comparatively recently that animals have been used in medicine to provide therapy. Research is ongoing as the potential for this form of therapy has yet to be fully explored.


Just ten weeks of animal assisted therapy can halt the progression of depression, anxiety and aggression in dementia sufferers. Traumatised patients have been shown to talk about their issues more readily during their animal assisted therapy. Those with mental health issues often feel that they can form a relationship with an animal because they don’t sense that they are being judged. Sometimes animals simply give people a reason for living. Little wonder, then, that AAT is rapidly moving into mainstream medicine.


Who would have thought that a guinea pig or a chinchilla could have such a powerful effect on mental health?


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