Healthy Beginnings

Animals and Their Healing Impact


My family is comprised of my husband and 3 adopted dogs aged 2, 4 and 13, and every one of them are ridiculously sweet and empathetic in their own ways. Larry has a thing about sneezes – when you sneeze, he runs over and throws himself in your lap, often wrapping his front legs around you, laying his head on your chest. He closes his eyes and rests there for as long as he feels you need at that particular moment. This is often followed up with lots of kisses, for good measure.

I was recently made aware of a retreat in Canada that allows people to visit for a spiritual, transformational session with horses[1]. What a beautiful idea! The sensitivity of horses is well known by almost anyone who has ever been in the presence of them. In addition to offering a unique healing experience, they also offer Equinistic Healing Certification.

Pet Partners, a national therapy animal organization, certifies many different animals to interact with a variety of clients, including veterans with PTSD, seniors living with Alzheimers, people with literacy challenges or intellectual disabilities, and those in recovery or nearing the end of their lives. According to their website[2], therapy animals include dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, pigs, birds, llamas and alpacas, guinea pigs and even rats.

While I’m not trying to claim that animals have mystical healing powers, I do believe that they can affect us psychologically and physiologically, as well. Some of the benefits animals are credited with providing are:

  • Lowering blood pressure and stress
  • Helping those suffering from the loss of a loved one
  • Helping people cope with (and, in some instances, detect or forewarn of) cancers and other diseases
  • Higher survival rates for people with coronary heart disease

Locally, there are at least two hospitals that integrate their treatment with pet therapy. Renown Health has 14 registered and certified pet therapy dogs and share some of their success stories on Pinterest[3]. Carson Tahoe Health allows service dogs in all areas except the ICU/CVU and the ED core. If you have a dog that you think might make a good therapy animal, CTH requires owners attend orientation, have all required medical testing, proof of vaccinations for their canine and meet with their infection control department. The process takes about 3 weeks or so, and if all works out, the owner and pup are then scheduled for visits. You can find their volunteer application online[4].

A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology reported that men who had suffered from heart attacks improved their survival rate by owning a dog. There is also research currently being conducted regarding the vibrations of a cat’s purr helping to reduce muscular aches, pains and inflammation[5].

Would you like to form a deeper healing connection with your pet? Here are seven ideas for strengthening those bonds.:

  1. Talk to your Pet. Speaking to your pet can help you feel understood and provide comfort, and can also help your pet feel included in your day. We talk to our dogs constantly, and joke (with more than a little truth) that they are now at the point where they understand satirical humor.
  2. Promote physical contact with your pet: Being close to your pet is one thing, but actually having physical contact is quite another. Touching and petting an animal has been linked with several health benefits associated with blood pressure and stress relief.
  3. Play with your pet: Interaction with animals boosts the hormone oxytocin, which helps promote love and trust within relationships[6]. Studies also show that, at least for dogs, when they make eye contact with you, they get a blast of that happiness-producing hormone, too!
  4. Include your pet as a member of the family. Your pets very often want to be with you, so whenever safe and possible, include them in your family activities. Ours love to go camping in the mountains, where we often camp with other friends and their dogs.
  5. Exercise with your pet. When I was growing up in northern Michigan, I used to walk in the woods with many of our animals, including dogs, cats, goats, turkeys and our little black lamb, Frisbeedingle. Having a companion join you on walks can not only be a smart safety move, but can increase your motivation and help you with your fitness goals.
  6. Be the one who comes to their rescue. In addition to avoiding costly vet bills, being aware of what’s going on with your pet, and knowing when they’re acting “off” helps you reassure them and let them know that you are there to protect them.
  7. Feed them the best food possible. Research what is safe and best for your pet, and make their treats yourself, if possible. For one of our favorite healthy dog treats, please see our recipe on pg. 24.

I know that many of you have read this article, nodding and recalling your own healing experiences with animals. Please email me at or share your stories (we also welcome your photos!) on our Facebook page at I look forward to hearing from you!

Additional Treats:

Looking for treats for other types of pets? Here are some great resources for homemade pet treats. We haven’t tried these, so please read the ingredients carefully, to make sure they’re safe for your beloved furry (or feathered) friend.

Homemade Horse Treats:

Homemade Guinea Pig Treats:

Homemade Bunny Treats:

Homemade Domestic Bird Treats (including pudding, pasta and pizza!):

Yup! We even found a site for Homemade Llama and Alpaca Treats: