Although the great assistance of animals is known for centuries, animal- assisted interventions have not received enough attention from researchers. Even as the number of studies grow, showing therapeutic potential in various medical conditions, researches are not always clear about their positive effects. Let us see some recent studies that reflect the current situation in this field.
Diverse non-systematic studies often refer to the importance of animals in human life. Researches give numerous accounts showing exceptional animal- human bond. For example, Dr Creagan from the Department of Oncology, Mayo Clinic, the USA described his experience that change his attitude to animal therapy. The story started when he received a call from the emergency department to see a patient with a serious chest infection and lung cancer. . A 56-years old man, who was a professor, but lost his position due to alcoholism, had supportive treatment. When he became better, the patient wanted to come back home to see his “Max”. The medical staff naively thought that it was a member of family or partner, but it was a 95- pound German Shepard. His four- legged friend provided him with the energy for recovering and , eventually, the man was able to come back home . Various case reports show how otherwise an unresponsive patient from stroke was able to connect with a dog through emerging smile or movements. Other dramatic examples describe severely withdrawn children who started talking to adults after playing with pets.
These and many other cases have led scientists to assess potential benefits and have evidence that would form a background for future recommendations and policies. Among definite studies of pet-assisted therapy is one conducted by the American Heart Association in 2013. This study suggests that having a dog as a pet may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Children with autism spectrum disorders are also benefited from therapy dogs as other studies concluded. In addition, the therapy dog can be used at an outpatient pain clinic to reduce emotional distress. The department of Anaesthesiology, University of Pittsburgh, the USA reported significant pain relief in 34% of all patients who spent their waiting time before an appointment with a therapy dog.
The benefits of other animals such as horses were studied in The Ohio State University, the USA. The researches reviewed current literature and found that horse riding improves motor function in children with cerebral palsy. The optimal regime includes 45-minute sessions, once weekly for 8-10 weeks. An American Autism Treatment Centre showed the effectiveness of hippo-therapy for autism. The study demonstrated significant improvement in the severity of symptoms especially in mood after 3 month.
For more then 25 years, the dolphin, a well-liked and exotic animal, is also used as complimentary therapy for patients with various medical conditions including those with neurological and mental problems. Dolphin-assisted therapy is an area that has supporters as well critics. The therapy is criticised because some studies on this therapy are biased and have poor methodology. Despite this, many health professional continue to offer it as an optional treatment.
There is no doubt that further research on animal-assisted therapy will overcome currently existing problems in its design and methodology. And clear scientific evidence will support us in selecting proved practice rather than relying on unproven therapies promising quick relief.