Why you should consider pet therapy for your child

Have you ever wondered why just being around our pet makes us feel better, no matter what kind of a day we’re having? The science behind those pet snuggles might actually be helpful for your child, especially if they are feeling uneasy, stressed, sad, nervous, or any number of strong emotions. The presence of a pet can have an amazingly positive effect on your child’s health.

How do animals make your child feel better?

Scientists have observed that interacting with animals increases levels of the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is the hormone that induces feelings of love and closeness. It slows a person’s heart rate and breathing, reduces blood pressure, and inhibits the production of stress hormones. All of these changes help create a sense of calm and comfort.

Why should your child consider Pet Therapy?

As children grow and discover more about themselves and the way they react to different people and situations, some challenges may be hard for them to tackle on their own. Through Pet Therapy, trained animals can be incredibly effective at helping children to overcome obstacles and cope with those difficult feelings and mental health issues.

Studies have shown that human-animal interaction (HAI) positively impacts social behavior, interpersonal communications, and mood. Most importantly, it increases trustworthiness and trust toward other people; reduces aggression; enhances empathy, and improves learning.

Most children love animals, making it easy for them to bond with their special ‘therapist’. Pet therapy offers not only time with a favorite friend, but also valuable emotional support.

Which animal therapy is best?

When choosing a therapy, consider both your child (including comfort levels and potential allergies) and the therapy’s desired outcome. While it is common to use dogs or cats in animal therapy, other types of animals also serve as therapists, including guinea pigs, fish, and horses.

Equine therapy involves activities with horses that enhance physical and emotional healing. During therapy, children learn to be responsible and respectful of the horse and to earn its trust, so that eventually both they and the animal feel comfortable being close enough for petting and hugs. These lessons extend outside of therapy too, as children learn to build trusting relationships with others, just as they do with horses. If your child struggles to find friends or communicate with others, equine therapy can be a natural transition to help them improve those important social interaction skills.

Equine Therapist Maria Glenn says horses can be large and scary, but there is no better animal for helping children build confidence and self-esteem, when they realize that this giant 600-pound creature is listening to them and will do their bidding when asked in an appropriate manner.

What makes Equine Therapy so special?

Equine therapy is especially successful for children with disabilities or special needs such as autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, seizure disorder, and more. As well as building important social skills, equine therapy can help children improve their motor coordination, balance, concentration, and self-esteem. Children who have a tough time speaking are taught to use their own words to command the horse, which improves their speech skills and confidence. Not only do children learn as they have fun outside instead of in a doctor’s office, they are also enjoying nature and the special joy, and connection that equine therapy offers.

Looking for an animal therapy camp?

Hearts & Hooves healing day camp, a program provided by The Bougainvilla House, promotes growth, healing, relationship-building, and connection through a unique combination of equine and traditional group therapy.

Hearts & Hooves is open to children ages 6-11 and teens ages 12-17 who are struggling with mental health issues. A day spent interacting with horses and rescued farm animals can be a fun, healthy, and meaningful way for young people to bond, build trust, heal, and learn to cope with their feelings.

Hearts & Hooves healing day camp is coming soon, and will take place at Marando Farms & Ranch, Fort Lauderdale. For more details, please email Veronicac@tbhcares.org.