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Last week care home patients at Magdalen Park Nursing Home in Hull received some unexpected visitors. Two miniature ponies, known as Buttercup and Daisy, arrived bringing joy to everyone there.

At Horizon Care our blog this month looks into using pets to heal, questioning whether animal therapy and elderly care is a good match.

History of Using Pets for Care

Whether you realise it or not, using animals for therapy can be traced back to Ancient Greece. Most often it was horses which were used to help lift spirits, improving mental and physical health. Using pets then developed further in Medieval Belgium and was again used by British nurse Florence Nightingale in the 1800s.

By the 1940s, pets and farm animals were helping war veterans with their recovery process. After this, formal research was carried out into using pets on children, trauma patients and the elderly. Today it is common to see puppies, cats and other animals used to visit care home patients, students stressed with their workload and trauma survivors.

What is Pet Therapy?

Anybody who has ever owned an animal knows how much joy they can bring. In the simplest terms, pet therapy is the use of pets to provide therapy. Using pets can help to bring happiness and joy to people, improving moods and fighting feelings of loneliness. Not all people have the time or ability to care for an animal full time, which is why visiting with an animal can be a good compromise.

Some of the main benefits include:

  • Provides a Sense of Purpose
  • Combating Loneliness
  • Promotes Positive Interactions
  • Increase in Activity
  • Lower Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Levels
  • Reduce Feelings of Hopelessness
  • Encourage Independence
  • Help with Depression and Stress

Although, it is important to remember that animals aren’t for everybody. Some people have allergies, phobias or a dislike for a particular species.

Visiting Patients

Resident Mary Cole meets pony Buttercup from Furry Friends [Picture: Alex Cousins, SWNS].

In May this year, two ponies from Furry Friends visited a care home in Hull. Helen Bellis, who owns the miniature ponies Buttercup and Daisy, said that bringing them into the home was a ‘breath of fresh air’ as well as a ‘genuine sense of joy’. Equine therapy is becoming more popular, especially for those who are experiencing mental health problems. Horses are being used to help those with a range of conditions including anxiety, poor behaviour, low self-confidence, trauma, stress and autism.

Future of Animal Therapy

Although, there may be a new future to animal therapy and the elderly. The University of Exeter has been researching Robopets and seeing if they have any impact on those in care homes. Led by Dr Rebecca Abbott, the study found that Robopets helped to reduce agitation as well as feelings of loneliness.

Currently, there are five different designs which resemble a dog, cats, bear and a young seal. Dr Abbott added that ‘a lot of people reported confiding in the pet’. To add to this, one man ‘wouldn’t go to sleep until the cat was placed on his chest.’

A major benefit to this approach to pet therapy is the ease of caring for the pet. There is no need for walks, cleaning or feeding. On average, the PDSA estimates that owning a cat costs around £17,000 and a dog between £16,000 and £31,000.

However, spending time with a pet doesn’t need to be expensive or stressful. Animal therapy gives people a chance to enjoy their lives and experience time with a pet, no matter what position they are in.

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