Feeling Better: the magic of animal therapy

It seems like studies and researchers are paying more attention to the benefits of animal therapy these days. It’s likely you’ve been out in public recently and you’ve seen a therapy dog. Sometimes they are service animals that help with the individual who’s with him and other times they provide therapy to people in group situations like nursing homes. The benefits in spending time with animals are numerous.


Several studies have found that pet ownership or time spent around animals has reduced the effects of dementia on patients. Animals also provide relief from boredom and loneliness. But are these results real or imagined?


Can Animals Make You Feel Better?

Pet owners and anyone who has visited Alligator Attraction knows that animals, even those that are not our own, can make us feel better. Spending time with a friendly animal causes the body to release the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is the substance that makes us feel good. It’s also released when we eat chocolate or we’re in love and spend time with the person we love. Oxytocin also encourages the building of trust and solidifies emotional bonds.


Makes sense doesn’t it that animals help stimulate the same feel-good hormone that our loved ones do? That’s probably one of the reasons people have such a strong connection to their pets.


But it’s not just the love hormone and feeling good that’s a benefit to spending time with animals. In fact, the releasing of oxytocin does a whole lot more than just make us feel happy. it can:

  • Reduce blood pressure.
  • Slow a person’s heart rate and respiratory rate, which helps lessen the effects of anxiety.
  • Inhibit the production of the stress hormone, cortisol. This stress hormone can make us feel overwhelmed and it can play havoc on our endocrine system, even affecting our metabolism and sleep. Inhibiting the production of cortisol has good long-term effects for our bodies.
  • Increase our ability to heal and grow new cells; whereas cortisol can negatively impact that ability.


Another benefit to being around animals is that they don’t judge, offer criticism, remind you you’ve made that same mistake before, and they never say the wrong thing. They are happy simply to be there with you. Animals also do funny things that make us laugh. They convey what they are feeling through their eyes, actions, and noises. This strange language that a person and animal may use to communicate may actually make the human a better listener. Stroking their fur or skin also produces a tactile response that calms and soothes. It’s a pleasurable activity that doesn’t require thinking or talking.


Therapy Uses for Animals

Animals are now being used in a variety of therapies including:

  • Encouraging reading among young children by bringing in pets for the children to read to
  • Alleviating boredom and loneliness in nursing homes
  • Visiting patients in hospitals
  • Helping those receiving chemotherapy to remain upbeat and emotionally strong
  • Alerting caregivers to potential changes in sugar levels for diabetics and oncoming seizures in epileptics
  • Keeping severely autistic individuals prone to self hurting from doing so
  • Improving balance
  • Helping those with chronic pain or addiction challenges
  • Educating and creating empathy in children
  • Helping veterans and other survivors of PTSD feel more secure in their surroundings
  • Improving social skills among children or those in traumatic injury situations


What kind of animals are used in therapy?

While most of us are aware of therapy dogs, canines aren’t the only ones used to help. Other therapy animals include:

  • Fish and aquatic animals in tanks
  • Guinea pigs
  • Horses
  • Cats
  • Goats


Being around animals gives us something outside of our own problems and health concerns to focus on. Whether those animals are your own pets or you visit them somewhere like Alligator Attraction, interacting with animals can be good for your emotional well-being. If you’d like to come and spend some time with our favorite animals, we encourage you to do so.


In fact, this past fall Alligator Attraction was certified as an autism-friendly business. Our staff has been trained to provide an educational and enjoyable experience for individuals who are living with autism.


But we’re also skilled at meeting the needs of people who just want to spend time around animals that don’t argue with them.

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