How Owning a Pet Can Be Therapeutic

by William Mattar | October 29th, 2020

Man embracing pet dog for comfortWhen adopting an animal, many people imagine how a new family member will bring joy, adventure, and companionship into their life.

But pets can be more than just fun—they can also be a form of therapy. Studies have shown that animals can help alleviate symptoms related to mental health problems and trauma, which are challenges that many injury victims face after a serious motor vehicle accident. In a recent survey conducted by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 74 percent of pet owners reported mental health improvements after adopting a furry friend.

Continue reading to learn more about the therapeutic benefits of animals.

The Emotional Benefits of Owning a Pet

If you ever owned a pet, you probably know firsthand the impact they can have on your well-being. Some of the well-known benefits of owning a pet, such as a dog, include feelings of love and companionship, increased enjoyment, and more motivation to get outside and socialize.

There is also tangible evidence of the emotional benefits of pet ownership. The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) funds various research projects that help expand our understanding of the health benefits of animals, including the extent to which they can be therapeutic for individuals struggling with a variety of mental health issues, including stress, anxiety, depression, and trauma.

The Impact of Animals on Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety are unfortunately common, especially for people who have experienced a traumatic or upsetting event, such as a car accident. Existing research suggests that animals can help reduce the negative emotions associated with both stress levels and anxiety disorders.

Studies conducted by HABRI found that pet ownership and interaction with animals can reduce “stress-related parameters,” improve immune system functioning, manage pain, reduce aggression, and increase empathy. Likewise, a study that analyzed the impact of animals on hospital patients with heart failure found that just 12 minutes with a therapy dog resulted in a reduction in anxiety-related symptoms.

Trauma and Pet Ownership

Distressing events can be traumatic, having long-lasting, painful effects on someone’s life. There are different types of

trauma, including trauma stemming from physical abuse, military service, or a close encounter with a natural disaster. Car accident victims can also suffer trauma of the mental and physical nature.

Research shows that Animal-Assisted Therapy can provide positive effects for individuals, including children, who have experienced trauma. These benefits include “emotional security” and “psychophysiological and affect regulation,” as well as other responses that can facilitate the healing process.

According to one study, Animal-Assisted Therapy helped reduce symptoms of trauma, depression, and anxiety and found that this type of therapy may serve as “a complementary treatment option for trauma.” Many of the animals used in these studies were dogs and horses.

PTSD and Pets

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can cause someone to relive a traumatic event in their mind. It is characterized by a range of symptoms related to intrusion and avoidance, as well as negative changes in one’s mood and cognition. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 7 or 8 out of every 100 people will have PTSD at some point in their lifetime.

Studies involving Animal-Assisted Therapy and PTSD have found that animal intervention can help reduce depression, anxiety, and the severity of certain other symptoms. One study analyzed by HABRI found that the presence of a pet can act as a “comforting reminder that danger is no longer present” and produce positive emotions. This study also found that animals can reduce feelings of loneliness and help people with PTSD connect to others.

Service Dogs

One type of specially trained pet—service dogs—not only provide emotional support and companionship but can also perform certain duties to help individuals with physical or mental health challenges. When thinking of a service dog you may picture the well-known example of a seeing-eye dog but there are many types of service dogs. In addition to those that help people with visual or hearing impairments, service dogs can also assist individuals with decreased mobility, epilepsy, diabetes, autism, and serious allergies.

Individuals with a disability may also benefit from a service dog that helps with daily tasks that are otherwise too difficult. For instance, a person suffering from a traumatic brain injury (TBI)—an injury that can result from a car crash—may experience a wide range of challenging symptoms. A TBI can cause diminished brain function, and problems with memory, speech, coordination, and mood.  A service dog may be recommended to someone diagnosed with a TBI to help them handle these various concerns.

Helping People…And Pets

At William Mattar law offices, we help people who have been injured in car crashes throughout New York State. During the month of November, William Mattar law offices also lends a hand to animals in need through our Rescue a Shelter Animal campaign. If you are considering adopting a pet, or want to learn more about how you can help a local shelter or rescue group, visit www.williammattar.com . If you are experiencing pain and suffering due to a car accident, help is available 24/7 by calling 844-444-4444 or through our contact form.