From aiding victims of disasters to sitting calmly at the bedside of those battling illness, comfort dogs can lend helping paws to those who need it most. Animal therapy for chronic pain can offer those who are struggling with a type of therapy that addresses both their pain and health concerns that can exacerbate pain.

What is animal therapy? 

You may hear the term animal therapy (or pet therapy or animal-assisted therapy) and think of service dogs. But therapy animals – most often trained therapy dogs – perform completely different jobs than service animals.

While service animals are trained to do specific tasks that benefit their handlers, therapy animals provide “psychological and physiological therapy to individuals other than their handlers.” These animals – typically dogs – are known to be friendly and calm and visit places such as:

  • hospitals
  • libraries
  • shelters
  • daycare facilities
  • schools
  • rehab centers
  • hospices
  • nursing homes

Animal Therapy for Chronic Pain old man with therapy dog

The American Kennel Club even has a program that recognizes the work of dogs in such places. The program “awards official AKC titles to dogs who have worked to improve the lives of the people they have visited.”

What are the benefits of animal therapy for chronic pain? 

Animal therapy can be an ideal step in your pain management journey. There is an undeniable bond between humans and animals. Research shows that companionship can provide healing in the forms of pain relief, improved mood, reduced stress and reduced fatigue.

Therapy dogs can also reduce pain by:

  • decreasing your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate
  • reducing your stress hormones like epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol
  • boosting your endorphins (these are your body’s natural painkillers)
  • increasing feelings of confidence and self-worth
  • benefitting your overall immune system
  • increasing your levels of oxytocin (this is a hormone that you can alter your response to pain)
  • easing feelings of anxiety and isolation

Animal Therapy for Chronic Pain cancer patient with therapy dog

Chronic pain often requires a multifaceted approach to manage. It can leave you with side effects that are misunderstood – and even overlooked – by your health care team, family, friends, coworkers and society at large. What is a more ideal way to find relief from what often cannot be explained with words than through the comfort provided by a therapy dog?

What is an animal therapy visit like? 

While we all know that service dogs are working dogs who are focused solely on the needs of their handlers, therapy dogs are encouraged to interact with people. If you’re interested in the therapeutic benefit of visiting with an animal, you may be wondering what happens during these visits. Here’s a look at a few of the many possibilities:

Having an established goal for your animal therapy visits is a good idea. This will help you as well as your health care assess objectives for each meeting. It will also help you make sure you get the most of out the healing possibilities.

The American Kennel Club recommends that therapy dogs be “naturally calm, friendly and affectionate to strangers.” The organization also notes they should be:

  • well-trained in basic obedience
  • healthy and have regular wellness check-ups
  • able to easily adapt to novel noises, places, smells, and equipment
  • well-groomed, clean and brushed at the time of all visits

old man in wheelchair with therapy dog

Paws up: animal therapy for chronic pain

If you are living with chronic pain and the depression and anxiety that often comes with it, consider animal-assisted therapy (AAT). Even 20 minutes with a dog trained to provide comfort and stress relief can make a difference in your pain journey.

Dogs aren’t put off by sadness or other signs of emotional distress like humans often are. Instead, they respond to such feelings with companionship. You may find a connection with a therapy dog that you haven’t found in friends or family.

To find a furry counselor in your area, start by clicking here.

Need an instant emotional pick-me-up? Read about the healing power of Ivy, a Chihuahua who provides animal therapy.

Share this video with a loved one who is considering animal therapy: 

Do you have a story about animal therapy for chronic pain?

Share your experience in the comments or email us at info@painresource.com.

What topics related to chronic pain therapy would you like to see us explore?

Email us at info@painresource.com with your ideas or with your travel testimony.

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