Animals as Therapy for Special Needs Families


Whoever was the first to say that dog is man’s best friend, probably didn’t know how true that statement actually was because a canine’s loyalty, while admirable, is just scratching the surface.

When it comes to special needs families, dogs and other types of animals can offer important therapeutic benefits that can make a huge quality-of-life difference.

Animal therapy is a term that refers to the interaction between a person and a specially trained animal. This sort of therapy is used to help people to recover from or to cope with health issues or disabilities. While canines and felines happen to be the most popular therapy animals, other animals like horses, guinea pigs, and even fish can be used for this purpose. The animal type selected will depend on factors such as the therapeutic objectives of the patient’s treatment plan.

Physical Benefits

Whether young or young at heart, your special needs family member can derive physical benefits courtesy of animal therapy. For instance, horseback riding can help to strengthen muscles. In fact the North American Riding for the the Handicapped Association, which happens to recommend horseback riding for people with physical, learning, and emotional disabilities, says that the activity can help participants to enhance their muscle tone, coordination, balance, motor skills, and posture. An interesting point to make is that the rocking motion that occurs when people ride horses is akin to the pelvic motion made while walking. It has also been demonstrated that using horses for rehabilitative or therapeutic purposes can help people who have mobility issues to improve muscle tone to the point where they may be able to learn how to walk using a walker.


Animal therapy involving dolphins can give special needs individuals the motivation to develop various skills. For instance, children in therapy sessions led by a professional might be given the chance to swim with or pet a dolphin if they properly demonstrate a specific skill. Because animal therapy is generally regarded as a fun activity by children, these children can become motivated. This can help them to complete the treatments faster and with fewer hiccups along the way.



Dogs can provide important companionship benefits for all member of your family. When it comes to special needs, however, dogs can take on an added degree of importance. For instance, they can be specially trained in order to help visually impaired persons who want to maintain some independence by safely going out and about. Some experts actually insist that dogs provide the sort of companionship needed for the development of kids who have disabilities.

Emotional & Social Benefits

Pet therapy can help special needs persons to increase their self-esteem, improve their ability to interact with other people, enhance their verbal communication skills, encourage them to exercise, lessen their anxiety, decrease their isolation, and develop their nurturing skills. As a result, there are many reasons why therapy animals can play a special role in special needs families

Animals as therapy for special needs families is a good idea. If you believe that a family member could use a therapy animal, then ask his or her medical professional for recommendations and a referral to get the ball rolling.