Dog therapy for depression
Today we will talk about a somewhat alternative topic.
The inspiration came to me when I was on vacation, while I’m spending a few days in Italy with my parents.
I don’t think I’ve ever shared this detail, but I share my home with a sweet 5-year-old pug. Its name is Toni and it always comes with us when I travel with my girlfriend.
My parents, on the other hand, have a 5-year-old Rottweiler named Ballack.
The two dogs grew up together, and although the breeds are totally different, their character is very similar.
As a result of the Covid-19 Pandemic, my last visit dates back to before the lockdown imposed by the government.
After all these months when our dogs met again, they immediately took the opportunity to play.
Watching them play, I paused for a moment to reflect on their sensitivity.
Ballack weighs about 50 kg, while Toni weighs 10 kg.
When Ballack and Toni vie for a toy, Ballack uses the minimum force necessary to counter Toni’s strength.
So I thought about how empathic these four-legged friends are towards us. We are going to examine why dog therapy is a good solution for depression.
What is pet therapy?
Pet therapy is a form of guided interaction between a person and a specially trained animal. This interaction is led by the animal handler. The purpose of dog therapy is to help a person heal or better manage a physical, mental, or psychological problem.
The type of animal chosen depends on the therapeutic goals set in the intervention plan. In most cases, dogs, cats, and horses are used.
Pet therapy is a form of assisted therapy and has a formal framework that consists of a series of sessions structured to help people achieve specific goals defined in the context of a specific and individualized treatment plan.
But in this post, we are going to talk about dog therapy and how it could help to fight depression.
How can dogs help manage depression, anxiety, and stress?
More than other animals, dogs have developed a particular attunement to humans, their behaviors, and their emotions.
While they are able to “learn” many of the commonly used words, on the other they have a high sensitivity to the tone of voice used, body language, and gestures.
And as with the best of our human friends, a faithful dog can look you in the eye, catch an emotion and try to understand how you feel and what you think (doing their best while waiting for the next walk or meal, of course).
While most people who own a dog have a clear understanding of the joys of having an animal friend, on the other hand, some are not well aware of the enormous physical and mental benefits that far exceed the pleasure of the company.
Only recently has a number of scientific studies begun to explore the benefits of the link between humans and animals.
The American Heart Association has linked the presence of an animal friend (especially the dog) to a reduction in the risk of heart disease and an increase in lifespan.
The studies also revealed that:
- Those who have a dog are less likely to suffer from depression than those who do not.
- People who have a dog show lower blood pressure in stressful situations. A study also found that people with threshold hypertension experienced a drop in blood pressure levels in the five months following the adoption of a dog in a kennel.
- Playing with a dog or cat can increase serotonin and dopamine levels and consequently allow for greater calm and relaxation.
- Anyone who has a pet has a lower triglyceride and cholesterol level than others.
- Patients who have suffered a heart attack tend to have a higher survival rate if they have an animal friend.
- Those over 65 who have a pet have about 30% fewer medical visits than those who do not.
One of the reasons for the therapeutic effects is that dogs satisfy one of the basic needs of the human being: contact.
Even criminals locked up in prison have shown long-term behavioral changes after interacting with the dogs.
Caressing, hugging, and in general touching the beloved animal friend can quickly calm and comfort us when we are anxious or under stress.
The company of an animal can also relieve a sense of loneliness, and many dogs can also help us get healthy exercise, all of which are essential for alleviating depression.
The benefits of pet therapy for children
Some people don’t think even children can suffer from anxiety or depression.
But before adolescence, the equivalent of depression is anxiety, and after puberty, some symptoms of anxiety deviate towards depression.
According to the Academy of Anxiety and Depression of America, anxiety disorders can affect one in eight children. Often in these cases, pets, be they dogs or cats, are an excellent help.
Here’s how they can help us or our children if symptoms of anxiety or depression arise.
Love without complications
Animals just love. They don’t judge or create expectations. There is nothing complicated in the relationship that is created with them. This is reassuring for children who often feel anxious or worried about issues such as making and maintaining friends at school. Children often feel reassured in thinking of their “best friend” and in being able to be who they are without having to make a good impression or please someone.
Responsibility and routine
For a child (as well as an adult) who may experience the feeling of losing control over himself and his life, the presence of a routine and responsibility can give the idea of purpose or a sense of logic where you have the feeling of not having any. Dogs and cats must be fed, cleaned, cared for, taken for a walk. Caring for animals can help people regain a sense of personal importance and worth. They are also tasks within the reach of children. Children suffering from anxiety or depression often feel lost and aimless. The idea of having to take care of another living being can help them develop a direction or a sense of things.
Dogs are a good incentive to move and go for a walk. We know well that leaving the house and doing some physical activity helps are excellent antidotes to difficult times.
When you suffer from anxiety or excessive worry, it can be difficult to “turn off” the brain. Thoughts jump from side to side like monkeys. Sometimes having the opportunity to get distracted is helpful. Reading, drawing, playing, calling a friend, or playing with your pet are all options to consider. It’s hard not to smile as we watch our funny friends put themselves in the weirdest positions, make absurd expressions, or play their favorite game.
People with depression tend to easily isolate themselves, both from friends and loved ones. You can’t really be alone with a pet. Our animals are natural icebreakers. Anyone who has a puppy knows how frequent it is to stop and chat with lovers or owners of other animals. Depressed children may also find it difficult to open up to others. The presence of a pet can help them fit into different social situations, for example by inviting a friend to play at home. In this case, the pet would become a preferential channel to stimulate interaction.
Physical contact and touch
Physical contact is reassuring for everyone. Several studies confirm the importance of physical contact and find that stroking an animal can lead to a slow heartbeat. Sometimes children with anxiety and depression need a greater dose of reassurance and hugs. Parents or loved ones can certainly satisfy this need, but contact with dogs or cats can be an added value. Several studies show that owning a dog can help lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, and increase levels of wellness-promoting chemicals. A study of Chinese women who own a dog found improved fitness, improved sleep quality, and overall health.
Both adults and children can benefit from playing with dogs, which can not only be a source of calm and relaxation but also of physical and mental stimuli. Playing with the dog can also encourage children’s learning. It can stimulate the imagination and curiosity. The advantage of teaching the dog something is to teach children the importance of perseverance as well as being a source of extreme joy.
It’s quite clear that dog therapy can give many other benefits than the ones for depression.
ADOPT WITH RESPONSIBILITY
What we have said is true but not for everyone. People with depression should ask themselves a few questions before adopting a pet:
Do you like animals? Have you already had any?
Many of us have been used to living in contact with animals since childhood. There are notable advantages but also many commitments. If you’ve never had one, consider whether it’s a really good time to venture out.
Would having an animal make you worry?
Death is a recurring idea when suffering from depression. If having an animal can make you feel overly worried about its loss, it would be good to reconsider the idea.
Is your depression very intense during this time?
Caring for an animal is not that simple. If the intensity of your depression is excessive, it is not a good idea to take one.
Can you afford the costs that an animal requires?
Keeping a dog or cat can be challenging. This is also a good thing to consider when considering taking a new friend into the house.
I hope that this post about dog therapy for depression gave you some useful information about the many benefits you can get from sharing your life with a dog.
What I have proposed to you is one of the possible solutions, but it is not my intention to replace the opinion of a doctor. By the way, in my opinion, having a dog is more than something
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Have a nice day,