The Magic of Pet Therapy

Does your pet have a talent for comforting those in need? Volunteering for pet therapy is a great way to spend more time with your pet, while also improving the lives of people in your community.Pet Therapy

Kit Darling, infection control coordinator at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says pet therapy can have a multitude of benefits for many different types of people.

As president of Aggieland Pets with a Purpose, a pet therapy organization in the Bryan/College Station area, Darling has personally seen the positive impacts that therapy animals, including her own dogs, can have on people in need.

“Animals have a non-judgmental nature,” Darling said. “It does not matter what you look like or if you are happy or sad, they can provide joy and comfort for you.”

Pet therapy is often used to help people in hospitals or long-term care facilities, including assisted living, rehabilitation centers, and skilled nursing facilities. Therapy animals can also comfort people with special needs, such as autism, Down syndrome, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or brain injuries.

“Therapy animals can lower blood pressure, relieve stress and anxiety, decrease loneliness, increase activity, improve communication, and enhance social opportunities,” Darling said.

By brushing, playing with, and talking to animals, patients in physical, occupational, or speech therapy can become more motivated to complete therapy activities.

In schools, therapy animals can provide a source of stress-relief before exams and even encourage kids to speak and read more in the classroom.

“Children can read out loud to the animal and it will not judge, criticize, or laugh if the child does not pronounce a word correctly,” Darling explained. “The animal can help the child improve their self-confidence, self-esteem, and social skills.”

Pets that are friendly, calm around people and animals, and well-trained may make good therapy animals. To get involved in pet therapy, Darling recommends searching for local groups and seeing what requirements they have.

Although every organization may have slightly different requirements, the Canine Good Citizen test can be a good starting point for training therapy dogs. This test determines how a dog reacts to loud noises, meeting new people or animals, and being touched or tugged on, as well as how it does with leash walking and basic commands like “sit” and “stay.”

Besides local organizations, larger groups like Therapy Dogs International and Pet Partners can also help with certifying an animal for therapy work and finding a place to volunteer.

If you have the desire to make a difference in your community, look into volunteering for pet therapy with your dog, cat, or other animal. Even little things like hugging a dog or hearing a cat purr can make a big difference for someone who needs to experience the unconditional love of pets.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Tips for Safe Travel with Pets

Summer is the season for fun vacations with the whole family, often including pets.

Before hitting the road, Kit Darling, infection control coordinator at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, has some helpful tips for keeping pets safe and calm during road trips, plane rides, and any other type of trip away from home.

The Magnificent Dog Car

Just like people need to wear seat belts in the car, pets also need to be strapped in to stay safe. Pets can be secured with a harness that attaches to the seat belt or they can travel in a well-ventilated crate.

“Before attempting a car ride, acclimate your pet to the harness or crate,” Darling said. “Begin with short rides and then gradually increase the time in the car, taking frequent breaks every two to three hours to allow the pet to get some exercise and go to the bathroom.”

Pets should never be allowed to ride unrestricted in a truck bed or be left alone in a parked vehicle, as heat builds very quickly and can be extremely dangerous.

“Do not allow your pet to ride with his head outside of the window as dirt and other debris can enter the eyes, nose, and ears causing injury or infection,” Darling advised.

If traveling by airplane, pets will need to ride in an approved crate for the full flight. If the pet is not small enough for its crate to fit under a passenger seat in the cabin, it will have to ride in the cargo bay of the plane.

“Contact the airline to find out what they require for pets traveling on planes,” Darling said. “The airline may have a restriction on breed, size, or age of the animal. Most airlines also require a health certificate issued by a veterinarian within 10 days of travel.”

No matter how the pet will be traveling, there are many ways to make sure it stays safe and comfortable upon arrival.

First, Darling advises double-checking that pets are welcome at the destination, even if the host will be a friend or family member. Good pet manners, such as using a leash and cleaning up after the pet, can help make sure they stay welcome throughout the trip.

“Whenever leaving the pet alone, put it in a crate and leave your contact information,” Darling said. “In a hotel or motel, put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, inform the front desk, and leave your contact information.”

When traveling with a pet, all supplies needed for that pet’s care should be brought along. Darling recommends packing a separate bag with the pet’s food, bowls, medications, toys, proof of rabies vaccination, veterinarian contact information, and any other necessary supplies.

Bringing along a familiar blanket or towel with the pet’s or the owner’s scent can help the animal feel relaxed in a strange place.

Pets may be tempted to run away if nervous, so they should be microchipped and/or wearing a collar with current contact information on the tag. Darling also recommends labeling the pet’s crate with contact information, especially for airplane travel.

Most importantly, remember to show your pet plenty of love and attention to help it feel safe, calm, and happy in an unfamiliar environment. Summer vacations are more fun when the entire family is having a good time.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

The Joys and Challenges of Adopting an Animal

person holding a black and white puppy in their arms, close upAdopting a pet from a shelter is a great way to find a new best friend. But it’s also a great way to make a huge difference for an animal, and potentially even save its life.

Sadly, many of the animals that end up in shelters come from bad situations. Adopting a mistreated animal can have extra challenges, but can be a great lesson in love, patience, and trust.

Kit Darling, infection control coordinator at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explains the benefits of adopting an animal that has been mistreated and discusses the best ways to earn its trust.

Adopting an animal can greatly improve its quality of life; an animal that has known nothing but loneliness and fear can be given the chance to feel love and safety, Darling said.

In return, these pets can provide unconditional love and support for their owners. The benefits of pet ownership may take longer, but can be just as strong in the end.

“It takes patience and consistency to gain the trust of an animal that has been mistreated,” Darling said. “It may take a while for the animal to trust and accept your love. Go slow, take baby steps, and do not expect too much.”

At first, these animals may show signs of fear or aggression, such as cowering, growling, or shying away from touch. Some may even have an injury if they did not have time to heal at a shelter.

“Animals that have been mistreated may show significant emotional reactions to certain situations or objects,” Darling said.

She explained that fear may cause these animals to be withdrawn, unwilling to play, or have the inclination to hide. Some may also show separation anxiety when away from their new owner.

Darling recommends giving the animal a secluded, quiet place to retreat to so that the animal feels safe and secure and is not rushed into frightening situations.

She said that trust building begins by spending quiet time together on a daily basis. Speak clearly in low tones, give the animal treats, and do a quiet activity nearby to help the animal learn to trust you.

“Allow the animal to meet his new family one by one and at a pace that is not overwhelming,” she said. “If he is fearful of people or other animals, do not force interactions with them.”

Once the animal has begun to adjust to you and your household, basic training can be used to decrease any remaining fear.

“Consulting with a veterinary behaviorist or certified animal behaviorist can be helpful when dealing with mistreated animals,” Darling advised.

It can take a short or long period of time before the animal is fully comfortable with its new family. Some animals will always retain a bit of fear, but many others will fully recover and go on to live a normal life.

“It is important to be patient, consistent, and persistent in the rehabilitation process,” Darling said. “It can be rewarding to see an animal overcome their fears and enjoy life again. If you are willing to take the time and open your heart and home to helping a neglected animal, it can give you a joyous and rewarding experience.”

Pet Talk is a service of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.