Benefits of Pet Therapy for the Brain

Animal-assisted therapy involves the use of various animals to aid in the recovery of health conditions. The practice has been in place since the 1990s and has become quite popular due to the benefits it provides. One of the advantages of pet therapy is how it affects the brain, improving mental health, cognition, and skills.

At Fairview Rehab and Nursing Home in Queens NY, we offer pet therapy as part of our therapeutic recreation activities for adults and seniors. The non-threatening nature and lack of judgment therapy pets provide increases socialization while improving mental and physical health. If you’re curious about the effects of animal-assisted therapy on the brain, check out the following information.

Happy woman putting hat on the dog during pet therapy session to improve brain function.

Health Benefits of Pet Therapy for The Brain

Dogs and cats are soft, fluffy creatures that are fun to pet and cuddle. While interacting with them, many people experience a boost to their mood, cheering them up after even short interactions. The reason for this is that spending time with animals alters the hormones in your brain.

During times of stress, the brain releases cortisol, which is the fight-or-flight hormone, almost like a built-in alarm. Too much of it increases stress, anxiety, heart rate, sleeplessness, and blood pressure. Pet therapy can reduce cortisol levels in the brain, calming your mind and reducing those health issues.

Spending time with pets also releases feel-good hormones, including serotonin, oxytocin, and prolactin. These hormones reduce stress and sorrow, boosting your mood and increasing happiness. They also improve socialization, so individuals become more interested in interacting with those around them, even after the pets are removed.

Another brain benefit of pet therapy is the release of endorphins. These are chemicals released by the pituitary gland and hypothalamus during pleasurable activities, including interacting with animals. Endorphins reduce stress and pain, easing symptoms of depression and anxiety while improving self-esteem and confidence.

Cognitive health

As an individual ages, cognitive health begins to decline, affecting several functions. These include thinking, learning, memory, motor skills, sensory functions, and emotional control. Such symptoms are common in those with brain or spinal tumors, Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, or head injuries.

Though pet therapy can’t repair the brain when cognitive health is impaired, it can reduce associated negative behaviors. The most common behavior pet therapy decreases is agitation, calming those with cognitive issues for a relaxed state of mind.

Skills improvement

Another way pet therapy improves an individual’s well-being is by improving their skills. Quite often, those with physical or mental limitations become increasingly deterred from performing difficult tasks.

For example, those required to perform physical therapy may resist treatment due to discomfort or pain. During pet therapy, the individual’s brain releases oxytocin, which blocks the nerve cells that receive pain signals. Doing so increases pain tolerance, which encourages the patient to work harder during their session. They may even enjoy the session, which motivates them to reach their treatment goals faster.

Pets also make other types of therapy more enjoyable, including occupational therapy, speech therapy, and social therapies. Animals increase a person’s interest in social interactions by reducing anxiety. Individuals are more likely to open up to a therapist or those around them during or after animal interactions.

This article contains informational and educational materials and does not replace health or medical advice. For questions or concerns regarding your medical condition or health objectives, speak to a qualified physician or healthcare provider.