While attending to terminally ill patients’ physical signs and symptoms, it is equally important not to
ignore the considerable emotional needs that come with this difficult time in their lives. These
patients may have difficulty expressing emotions, need companionship, and feel alone and
misunderstood. High-quality hospice care must be designed to attend to these emotional
requirements, but sometimes the human element of this care system may be unable to meet up.
Enter pet therapy, a possible solution to the above problem. It is also a very logical one too. Humans
and pets have a proven bond that spans centuries. With this bond comes a mutually beneficial
relationship, and it is this human-animal connection that pet therapy seeks to harness to bring
peace, comfort, and relief to the terminally ill.
Pet therapy, also referred to as animal-assisted therapy, is a concept that has been richly researched
for decades now. Beginning with the work of American psychologist Boris Mayer Levinson in the
mid-nineties, various studies have been carried out, and the efficacy of this form of therapy for
people with multiple health conditions has been firmly established. Pet therapy is now common
practice in hospice care, and the results justify its inclusion.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF PET THERAPY IN HOSPICE CARE?
Pet therapy mostly aids patients emotionally and socially, but some physical benefits have also been demonstrated. The mere presence of these animals is often therapeutic enough, but the effect is more pronounced with close interaction. Patients can pet, hug, cuddle, play games with, and even
talk to their pets. Even the patient’s family members and caregivers can join in the fun to create a
wholesome environment that potentiates the comforting effect of having these lovable creatures
Listed below are established advantages of close companionship with pets:
PROVIDES RELAXING EFFECT
Time spent cuddling and playing with pets provokes the brain to release endorphins that have a very
relaxing and calming effect on the human body. This is especially helpful to patients dealing with
anxiety; the release of these chemicals will help lower their anxiety levels.
IMPROVES FEELING OF LONELINESS
It may be hard for the terminally ill to shake feelings of loneliness sometimes. Their loved ones might have busy schedules that limit how much time they can spend together. Pets have no such
limitations and are available at all times of the day. The companionship they provide can greatly
Terminally ill patients can talk to animals without fear of being judged. Admittedly, pets cannot offer
verbal responses or hold conversations, but many times, just voicing out thoughts is all the therapy
that’s needed. This can also help lift their moods and stimulate them to open up to family, friends,
IMPROVES CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH
Scientific research asserts that pet therapy reduces blood pressure, improves heart rate, and
contributes positively to cardiovascular health in general. Terminally ill patients can certainly benefit
from a healthier heart.
The release of endorphins and perhaps the delightful distraction that pets provide helps reduce the
physical pain experienced by the patients.
WHICH ANIMALS ARE SUITABLE FOR PET THERAPY?
For an animal to be useful for pet therapy, it must be gentle and friendly with no history of
aggressive behavior. Many organizations that provide animal-assisted therapy train these pets to
follow instructions and provide the affection needed by patients. The patients set to handle the pets
also receive the training necessary to maximize their interactions. The handlers must be friendly and accommodating and must not be allergic to the chosen species of animals.
Dogs are the animals most suitable for pet therapy, but alternatives can be selected based on
preferences. Cats, horses, rabbits, pigs, horses, and birds are other pets that are very useful for
Pet therapy is certainly not a compulsory aspect of hospice care, but for those who choose the
option, it is often a decision they do not regret. If you want to give animal-assisted therapy a try,
Hillside Hospice is available to guide you through the process of finding a pet therapy organization to get you started.