Pet Therapy for Chronic Pain – Is it Useful?

Pet Therapy for Chronic Pain

It is well known that pets play an important part in our everyday lives. They bring a sense of calmness and relaxation after a hard day at work. Playing with the pets not only makes us forget about the stressors at work or at home but also fulfill the need of a friend in case if we are feeling lonely. There are different kinds of animals that one can have as pets. They can range from a dog to a fish and horses.

Pet Therapy for Chronic Pain

Pet Therapy for Chronic Pain—Is it Useful?

While pets have a positive effects on our minds little is known that they are even useful for treatment of chronic pain. This form of treatment in which chronic pain patients are treated with pets is known as Pet Therapy. This entails use of homely pets like dogs or cats which are trained in such a way that they provide a soothing effect to the patient while they are with the pets. Pet Therapy can be utilized for both adults as well as children.

Studies have suggested that there has been a considerable improvement in the patient’s perception of pain post Pet Therapy. The best results are seen in patients who form an immediate connect with the animal used for Pet Therapy. Pet Therapy entails a connection between the patient, the animal, and the handler of the animal in close quarters which gives the best result post Pet Therapy. Proper goals are established for the patient to achieve best results from Pet Therapy.

Pet Therapy for Chronic Pain in Adults

In one of the studies conducted in the United States, about 150 patients with different types of illnesses resulting in chronic pain were enrolled for Pet Therapy. The patient was required to fill in a form in which the visual analog score which is the pain score of the patient was filled in by the patient. The visual analog pain score of VAS pain score ranges from 1-10 with 1 being mild and 10 being the worst pain the patient has ever felt. The patient is then sent to a room where the pet which is usually a dog or a cat that is trained and the handler of the pet are.

The patient is given a free hand to play or pat the pet. It initially starts with duration of some 15 minutes and after a few sessions the patient is allowed to spend as much time with the pet as he or she wants. During the sessions, the patient is not only allowed to play with the pet but can also interact with the handler regarding the pet or the animal as a whole. Once a few sessions are over, the patient is again asked to fill in the VAS pain score and it was quite surprising to see that the pain score had gone down a few notches for maximum number of patients post Pet Therapy.

Pet Therapy for Chronic Pain in Children

In cases of children, the same procedure of noting down the pain score prior to Pet Therapy is followed. The children along with a guardian or a parent are allowed to play with the pets along with the handler and a few sessions are conducted. Caution needs to be maintained here that the child should not put his or her hands or fingers in the pet’s mouth or touch any secretions of the dog as this may lead to infection. Studies suggest an alarming reduction in pain for children who had enrolled in Pet Therapy and participated in the therapy according to the guidelines as outlined by the concerned physicians.

How Does Pet Therapy Ease Chronic Pain in Patients?

The question is how is it that the pain score in maximum of the patients enrolled in Pet Therapy come down. There have been various explanations give by various researchers but the most potent explanation is that when the patient plays with the pet then it reduces the stress hormones like epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol.

Pet Therapy also increases endorphin levels in the body. Endorphins are enzymes which reduce pain perception and allow an individual to feel good about himself or herself. Hence they are also called as the body’s natural opiates.

Pet Therapy also increases the levels of oxytocin which alters the level of pain perception in an individual and also reduces stress hormones. Pet Therapy also improves the overall mood of the patient and thus it helps the patient feel decreased pain after a session of Pet Therapy.

What are the Risks for Pet Therapy for Chronic Pain?

When we are dealing with animals there are bound to be certain risks adherent to it, although with a well trained and vaccinated pet the risks are fairly low. For example when an individual with a compromised immune system comes in contact with the saliva or secretions of the pet then the chances of passing an infection is quite high for that individual.

Thus, it is always recommended to consult with the physician first before embarking to reduce pain with something as novel as Pet Therapy. It is also recommended to the patients undergoing Pet Therapy to not kiss the pets and once you are done with the therapy washing the hands thoroughly with a hand sanitizer so as to eradicate the risk of contacting an infection from the pet after a session of Pet Therapy.

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 7, 2017

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