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Pet therapy, professionally referred to as Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT), has been used by therapists in the UK for decades. Notably, pet therapy was used during WWII when an American Corporal, recovering in an army hospital in the Philippines, brought his pet terrier Smoky in to help cheer him up. The dog was such a hit with other injured soldiers at the hospital that the Commanding Officer at the hospital, Dr Charles Mayo, decided to take the perky pooch on his rounds - a career in therapy that Smoky continued for another twelve years.

Later, American nurse Elaine Smith noticed a very positive response in patients when they were visited by a chaplain and his golden retriever dog, during her time as a registered nurse in England. Upon her return to the United States in 1976, Smith began a program for visits to institutions with training dogs.

Since then, health care professionals worldwide have practiced and documented the therapeutic effect of animal companionship, with benefits ranging from increased trust and focus, to speech therapy improvements and also relief from anxiety, loneliness, self-esteem issues and depression.

While it is a rather contentious subject, with websites and organisations such as HealthyPlace stating that pet therapy hasn’t actually been proven to work, countless personal accounts and endorsements by organisations such as the NHS show that AAT does have a place in the medical world of holistic therapy, and is a trusted means of treating depression by healthcare professionals globally.

Working in nursing homes, respite homes, hospitals, psychiatric institutions and rehabilitation centres, animals are handled by professionals and help patients work towards specific emotional, cognitive, social and physical goals.

EverydayHealth features the testimonial of a bipolar sufferer, Peter Ashenden (also president and CEO of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance), says he believes that his Shih Tzu dog, Bella, helps keep him from feeling socially withdrawn and prevents loneliness through constant companionship:

"Bella goes everywhere with me, whether it be a gala dinner or board meetings… She is my companion. By having Bella with me, it brings a piece of home with me wherever I go."

Owning a pet is well documented as being hugely beneficial to ill people but other considerations such as pet care must also be considered. Pets can be time consuming to care for and, while they are incredibly helpful, if a depression sufferer has trouble carrying out day-to-day tasks, then they may well have trouble committing to and properly caring for a pet. On the other hand, the patient’s nurturing instinct may kick in and the sufferer may well benefit from a companion.

In this case, then, it is wise to consider the next level of care. Pets can also be costly, with veterinary bills costing hundreds - sometimes even thousands - of pounds, depending on the pet. Conduct a search for a comparison website like ‘moneysupermarket pet insurance’ to find financially viable cover to ensure that you could afford a therapeutic pet. There’s also the emotional distress caused by accidental death of a pet to consider, for which some insurers provide cover, although reimbursement is rarely the issue.

This article was provided by moneysupermarket.com, the UK’s leading price comparison site. The moneysupemarket.com pet insurance service features a wide range of companies to help UK pet owners find the right cover for their beloved animals quickly and easily.

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