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  • Cameron Mazzeo MSW, LCSW

Benefits of Companion Critters

Posted July 25th, 2023

Written by Mx. Rowan Quinn

In recent years, people have become more aware of working companion animals: seeing eye dogs, epilepsy and allergy alert dogs, and mental health service dogs are the most common. But did you know companion critters can help mental health and recovery in many more forms than service dogs?

The next most well-known example is probably Therapy Animals used in

hospitals to raise the morale of those in intensive or long-term care. Dogs, cats, bunnies, miniature horses, and more are trained to be calm and docile, and even affectionate, during excessive handling and socializing. Animals trained for Therapeutic Visitation provide joy, stress-relief, and lessen feelings of loneliness felt by those going through long or intense medical issues. Many hospitals now keep fish tanks as studies show just watching fish can help reduce stress in many of the same ways. But, those are just the tip of the iceberg!

The Huntercombe Hospital – a British Mental Health center – found great results in

helping people with many issues from PTSD to Addiction and Eating Disorders... with snake handling! Angel, a seven-year-old 5ft corn snake enjoys pets, feeding, and care in group sessions. Handling a snake, especially one as docile as a corn snake, got patients out of their heads and better rooted in the moment. Doing something so unusual yet incredible provided a sense of accomplishment and confidence, that would normally be much harder to achieve within the group!

There's also a new wave of veterans finding solace in Beekeeping. Bees

have facial recognition and are surprisingly social creatures! Some experienced beekeepers don't even use a protective suit – the bees recognize them and consider them a friend. Focusing on the gentle careful movements when caring for such small creatures creates a sort of forced mindfulness that can help block out PTSD memories, ruminating thoughts, and more.

Then there's Equine Therapy. Equine Therapy is a great option for helping adults and children alike with learning disorders and help the development of everything from motor skills and coordination to empathy and social skills. It's also a great option to help with anxiety, depression, and PTSD! It helps to create confidence, bonding, and body awareness, among other things.

Far from last, and certainly not least, are the prisoner rehabilitation

programs. One of the most successful and well-known are the various Prison Cats programs. Cats have about the size, weight, and eye-to-head size ratio of infants, but are also warm, fuzzy, and purr at calming frequencies. Many prison cat programs find that pairing cats with prisoners helps rehabilitate both parties! Socialization is just as important for cats as it is for humans, and the program helps the prisoners relearn empathy, trust, compassion, and gentleness often lost after

doing time in our punitive-based system.

There are dozens of other programs out there finding equal success with

other animals. There are parrot care programs for PTSD, dolphin swims for people with Autism, and just the overall benefits for most people with having pets in general. Pets of all kinds can lower cortisol levels and blood pressure, help fight loneliness, build empathy, and provides unconditional love and a lifelong companion. There are both mental health and physiological benefits to keeping a companion critter, of any kind!

Remember, if you're interested in owning a companion animal, make sure to adopt from a rescue or look for reputable breeders. Also, look into what kind of animal might be right for you – from guinea pigs, birds, and especially the large variety of cat and dog breeds the needs and temperaments of all creatures varies. Not all pets are right for everyone, but finding a friend that suits your lifestyle can be a huge benefit. Do plenty of research into what the care and keeping needs are for any animal companion you may be interested in. If you're not sure having a companion critter is right for you long-term, there are also plenty of groups looking for short-term foster homes for a variety of animals; who may thrive better outside a cage and socializing while also waiting for their "fur-ever" homes.

Works Cited:

American Veterinary Medical Association. (n.d.). Animal-assisted interventions: Definitions.

American Veterinary Medical Association.


Barnyard Bees, & haught, david. (2018, July 4). Bee Suits and Why We Don’t Wear Them.

Bortscheller, J. (2019, December 19). Types of Pet Therapy. Www.yourtrainingprovider.


Erb, J. (2020, October 19). Behind prison walls, cats and inmates rehabilitate each other

through animal care program. The Indianapolis Star.

other-through-animal-care-program/5798291002/ (n.d.). Equine Therapy as Mental Health Treatment: How

It’s Used. Verywell Mind. Retrieved June 29, 2023, from

therapy-mental-health-treatment-4177932#toc-who-its-for (2019, September 12). Bee-lieve it or not: beekeeping can help

with PTSD. WKBW 7 News Buffalo.


Lundberg, A., & Srinivasan, M. (2021). Effect of the presence of an aquarium in the waiting area

on the stress, anxiety and mood of adult dental patients: A controlled clinical trial. PLOS ONE, 16(10),


Mental Health Foundation. (2022, February 15). Pets and mental health.


Mobley, L. (2015, July 2). The Pros and Cons of Dolphin Assisted Therapy for Autism | OAR.

Organization for Autism Research.


NHS recruits snakes to treat depression. (2012, April 12).

Siebert, C. (2016, January 28). What Does a Parrot Know About PTSD? The New York Times.

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