Benefits of Pet-Assisted Therapy for Alzheimer’s & Dementia Patients January 23 2013


For thousands of years, man has realized the special bond between animals and people. That bond provides therapeutic benefits for Alzheimer’s patients because pets offer acceptance, companionship, and unconditional love. Any pet owner will attest to the great joy and comfort that an animal can provide.

Pet-Assisted Therapy and Activities

Today, animals and pet-assisted therapy is becoming more popular in Alzheimer’s communities. A growing number of these communities encourage “house” pets, resident-owned pets, and visits from pet-assisted therapy organizations in their facilities. When someone hears the term “pet-assisted therapy,” they initially think of a therapy dog. However, other pets, such as cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, horses, and fish, are also used with great success.

More and more, activity directors are incorporating the therapy into their monthly calendar of activities, and, as a result, are engaging people with Alzheimer’s disease in meaningful interactions. In addition, activity directors are able to build entire programs designed to complement and enhance a visit from an animal. For example, after a visit from a dog, programming could include reading a book of short stories about dogs, creating dog-themed artwork, or singing songs about dogs.

Benefits of Pet-Assisted Therapy

Like activities such as music, reading, or gardening, pet-assisted therapy can play an important role for seniors living with a cognitive impairment. A visit can introduce diversity into the daily routine while improving the overall quality of life.

For an Alzheimer’s patient, interacting with an animal can provide a number of emotional and physical benefits. The comfort and acceptance a pet provides can lower blood pressure, decrease anxiety, and increase feelings of well-being. An animal can evoke memories of a past family pet. It can fulfill the need for companionship and reduce feelings of isolation. The simple act of petting an animal provides sensory stimulation and promotes a feeling of peace and serenity. Depending on individual ability, a person may play a game of fetch, groom the animal, or even take the animal for a short walk to keep physically active.

Choosing the Right Pet

It is important to remember, while pet-assisted therapy offers a variety of benefits for people with Alzheimer’s disease, the interaction may not be appropriate for everyone. As with any activity, a person’s likes and dislikes must be considered. A person may have an allergy or had a traumatic experience with a specific animal during their lifetime and may not welcome the presence of the animal.

However, for people with Alzheimer’s disease who do enjoy animals, pet-assisted therapy can provide the opportunity to experience the love and affection only an animal can deliver.

The Dogs and Puppies book from Shadowbox Press can be used in conjunction with an animal-assisted therapy program. The heartwarming stories and endearing photographs can be discussed after the therapy dog leaves providing an opportunity to recall treasured memories of dog ownership. For more information or to place your order, call us toll-free at (888) 796-6333.