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Exploring Pet Therapy and Seniors

Can the elderly find solace and healing through puppies?

According to Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, they can. A certified lover of animals, she stated in 1859 that “a small pet animal is often an excellent companion for the sick, for chronic cases especially.”

It is this belief that enforces the foundation of pet therapy. Through interacting with therapy animals, senior citizens are given the chance to engage in communicative environments, strengthen cognitive function, and receive unconditional emotional care.

Finding What Works Best

Although pet therapy has proven effective in many cases, it is difficult for many seniors to ascertain the right program for themselves. While one person may find comfort in equine therapy, another may find spending time with horses more challenging than therapeutic.

For those new to the concept of pet therapy, it can be broken down into three separate delineations: there is full ownership, animal-assisted therapy, and visitation.


This is the most familiar form of pet therapy. Patients adopt and become responsible for their chosen animal. This encourages a stable routine, physical activity, and steadfast companionship.

It should be noted that this is the most intense form of therapy, due to the aforementioned responsibility. If the patient has strenuous physical or mental limitations, this might not be the best course of action.

Animal-Assisted Therapy

In animal-assisted therapy, the interaction between patient and animal is facilitated by a therapist. This form of therapy is for those seeking medical help for debilitating conditions. Many times, this treatment is born out of a series of counseling sessions with the doctor.

In this form, the pets tend to receive more training than other generalized “therapy animals.” The pets used in these scenarios are trained and sensitized to help the person’s specific ailment. For example, there are many dogs trained in ‘behavior interruption’ that are intended to help dementia patients undergoing an episode.


The simplest form of pet therapy is visitation. This entails the animals entering the senior citizen’s space for a temporary period of time. While the clients can interact with the pets for this period, they are not responsible for the livelihood of the animals. This system is best for those who are not physically or mentally able to take on the commitment of a full-time pet.

Many mobile pet therapy companies work with assisted care facilities and a home care nurse in Boynton Beach, FL to organize visitation days. This allows seniors interact with pets in a group setting on a semi regular basis.