The Benefits of Animal Therapy

April 24, 2023


An estimated 50% of American seniors have a pet at home. And while there are many benefits to having an animal companion, a growing body of new research shows that the positive impacts of having a pet extend far beyond the simple joys of having a furry friend. In fact, more and more experts are recommending animal therapy for seniors as a way to boost your mood and mental health, improve your physical health, and so much more. 


What is Animal Therapy?

Animal therapy involves a range of animal interactions done in an individual or group setting and is prescribed by a mental health professional or psychologist. Animal therapy sessions are often conducted regularly for a few weeks or months, and are commonly used to help:

  • Process and heal from past trauma, such as the loss of a loved one 
  • Cope with changing life circumstances, such as navigating retirement or moving into an assisted care facility
  • Improve and support mental health, especially among those of us experiencing stress, anxiety, grief, or loneliness
  • Support stronger physical health, such as fine motor skills and range of motion

The type of animals incorporated into animal therapy varies greatly depending on your health concerns, circumstances, and geographic location, but some of the most common animals used in animal therapy are dogs, horses, cats, birds, and rabbits.

The 5 Benefits of Animal Therapy

If you're curious about trying animal therapy for yourself, you're not alone. In fact, the animal therapy industry has grown by an estimated 7.2% every year since 2017. This growth in the popularity of pet therapy or animal-assisted therapy is driven in part due to the significant, measurable benefits it brings to seniors across the country.

1. Improved Mood and Mental Health

According to a national survey conducted by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute, 3 out of 4 pet owners say that having a pet made them feel happier. And there's measurable science behind this anecdote. Studies have found that when we play with animals, those interactions trigger the release of oxytocin — a feel-good hormone that helps bolster positive emotions and happiness.

However, it's about more than just feeling happy. Mental health is a growing concern among older adults, with 20% of seniors reporting high levels of stress and anxiety. Rates of depression are also rising as seniors navigate life changes, such as making decisions about their long-term care and medical needs. Animal therapy has been shown to:

2. Increased Sense of Social Connection and Community

Studies show that a sense of isolation or feeling alone increases as we get older, but animal therapy can help. Not only do 80% of pet owners say that having a pet makes them feel less lonely, but more than half of surveyed pet owners said that having an animal companion helped them to connect and build friendships with other people in their community. 

3. Stronger Physical Health

Whether it's brushing a horse or walking a dog, animal therapy encourages you to stay physically active and fine-tune your balance, dexterity, and motor skills. For example, older adults who have a dog show significantly higher levels of physical activity, and physical exercise is one of the most powerful factors for improved health, reduced risks of falls, and lower rates of chronic disease in seniors. 

4. Better Quality of Life

As you age, you're faced with a lot of new challenges and circumstances, such as changes in your level of independence or long-term care. Animal therapy can help, with studies showing that seniors who work with animals report a greater level of satisfaction with life. Animals have even been shown to help seniors who also care for a loved one, such as older adults who are taking care of a spouse or partner with dementia

5. Lower Risk of Disease

The risks of cardiovascular disease, such as heart disease and stroke, are more common as you get older. Working and playing with animals has been linked to everything from improving cardiovascular health and even improving your rates of survival and recovery from a heart attack. These results may be due to a myriad of factors, such as animals reducing your stress levels and encouraging more physical exercise. Animal therapy may also offer benefits for other common chronic diseases in seniors, such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer

Whether you're simply petting a four-legged friend, trying out goat yoga, or equine therapy, any animal bond is sure to bring a smile to your face. That's why Moorings Park Communities includes various elements of animal therapy in our programs to bring joy, comfort, and support to members. To learn more about our integrated wellness programs, personalized healthcare, and luxury residences, contact us today!

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