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Therapy dogs have been used for many years to help people with disabilities. Now they are becoming more popular for treating individuals with dementia and other cognitive disorders.

Animals make the perfect companions because they are non-judgemental and have unconditional love for their owners. Research shows that people with dementia recognize pets in their setting and see them as being non-threatening.

As a matter of fact, when people with dementia have an animal with them, they tend to display more interactive behaviors. These interactions tend to be directed at the animal as opposed to other people in the room, but even these behaviors are worth something!

Let’s take a closer look at the benefits to pet therapy.

  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Reduced agitation
  • Increased pleasure
  • Increased rate of survival following a heart attack
  • Better eating
  • Interesting conversation topic
  • More physical activity
  • Enhanced social interactions

Tips for Choosing Therapy Pets

If you believe that pet therapy may be beneficial for your loved one, matching them to the right animal is key. Here are a few things to consider.

  • Temperament. The personality of the pet will determine how good of a therapy pet they will be. The best therapy animals are ones that are comfortable interacting with strangers and not easily startled. The best pets tend to be dogs, but some programs also use guinea pigs, rabbits and horses.
  • Well-trained. Because therapy animals are often in environments where there is a lot of equipment around (feeding tubes, IVs, wheelchairs), it’s important that they are able to follow commands. Therapy dogs should be able to sit, stay and place their head on someone’s knee.
  • Registration. Therapy pets should be held to a higher standard than ones that aren’t. Though many people don’t ask about certification, they should. Ideally, therapy animals should be registered with the Delta Society, Pet Therapy International or Therapy Dogs International.
  • Well-kept. Cleanliness is important for therapy pets for both the animal and the senior. Dogs should be groomed regularly. Before/after visiting with a therapy pet, seniors should wash their hands. They should also avoid contact with the animals’ mouths.

Animal therapy is still relatively new, but it’s showing great promise to seniors with Alzheimer’s and dementia. If you would like to learn more, we encourage you to check out the latest news from the Alzheimer’s Project.