Animal therapy can work along with medication and talk therapy to help a person dealing with depression to successfully overcome it. Animals are very comforting because they don’t set off the same Pavlovian triggers as people do and their love is unconditional and consistent. Petting a dog or cat has been shown to release endorphins which are chemicals that promote a sense of calm and well-being. Having a pet can also help people to better regulate their emotions such as anger and fear. Petting a dog or cat provides a touch that is essential for emotional good being and which also helps the depressed person to feel better and want to socialize instead of isolating. A pleasing touch releases the chemical known as Oxytocin which is necessary for bonding, socializing, and maternal instincts.
The importance of touch provided by a dog or cat should never be underestimated. Humans require touch to thrive and lead happy lives. Research shows that babies who are touched regularly fuss less, sleep better at night, gain more weight, have better brain development, are less fearful, and bond better with others. When babies do not receive touch they are more likely to become ill and even die. Pets are great surrogates for humans because they provide the loving and supportive tactile stimulation needed for good mental health, stress reduction, bonding, and happiness.
Animal therapy has been shown to benefit cancer patients, sexual assault victims, children dealing with autism, and even increase a person’s lifespan. Animal therapy has been shown to help lower the blood pressure of cancer patients so that they will be ready to receive chemotherapy treatments. Having a therapy dog while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment for cancer has been shown to improve the patient’s overall quality of life and sense of well-being. Sexual assault victims have been shown to benefit greatly from having a service dog because the dog can keep them calm and provide a feeling of safety and security while alleviating the debilitating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Animal therapy has also been shown to help children with autism be more assertive which is usually very difficult for children dealing with autism. Studies have shown that autistic children who have pets in the home are more likely to introduce themselves, respond to questions, and ask for information. Research also shows that owning a pet can reduce the likelihood of having a heart attack by 30 percent and lower cholesterol levels.