We all love to cuddle up with our animals when we get home after a long day. Snuggling with an animal can provide comfort, companionship, and many other benefits. In fact, the company of an animal can decrease stress and anxiety levels, lower blood pressure, ease pain (both physical and emotional), and regulate emotions – which is why pets are often used as therapeutic tools! April 30 is National Therapy Animal Day, a day to celebrate and learn about the important work that therapy animals perform.

You’ve probably heard the terms “service animal,” “emotional support animal,” and “therapy animal” used interchangeably, but all three are very different and carry different privileges. A service animal is trained to perform certain tasks for a person with a disability – like guiding a blind person or alerting a person to an oncoming seizure or other medical crisis – and is allowed to accompany their handler in public stores. An emotional support animal is a personal pet that is recommended by a mental health professional in order to provide a person companionship and relief from psychiatric challenges, but an emotional support animal is not allowed in places where pets aren’t allowed. A therapy animal is an animal that is trained to play a role in a therapeutic treatment plan and is oftentimes owned by a mental health professional.

Therapy animals have calm, friendly temperaments and specific training that allow them to be successful in their jobs. Unlike a service animal, who should not be distracted or touched by anyone but their handler while working, a therapy animal is the opposite. When a therapy animal is at work, his job is to provide calmness and comfort to everyone around him, which includes getting petted and cuddled! Therapy animals visit places like hospitals, nursing homes, schools, correctional facilities, hospice, disaster areas, and more. Even during a scary situation like a hospital stay, the comfort of a pet can significantly lower stress levels and bring a smile to your face. Animals provide familiarity and optimism to people in nursing homes, and they promote coping skills and emotional regulation in people spending time in correctional facilities.

Dogs aren’t the only type of therapy animal – there are therapy animals of many species! A popular form of animal-assisted therapy is equine therapy, where clients visit horses to build confidence and social skills, problem-solving skills, empathy, and more. Horses are known to mirror their handler’s emotions, so clients learn self-awareness and emotional regulation while they practice various activities like grooming, feeding, and walking a horse. Other types of therapy animals include cats and even rabbits!

Therapy animals are incredible and their work is important. They are sure to make an impact everyone they meet. Happy National Therapy Animal Day!