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Lyme disease is caused when a person is bitten by a tick who carries the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, which causes Lyme disease. Not all ticks carry this bacteria, so don’t freak out if you get a bite! Ticks may hop on you while you’re outside, in wooded areas, or walking through long grass. Ticks will also latch onto your dog or cat.

Lyme disease can affect dogs. The most common symptoms will be recurrent lameness, due to inflamation of joints, a lack of appetite and depression. There are more serious, rare symptoms which can occur if the disease continues without treatment.

Lyme disease also affects humans. A first sign that something is wrong may be a rash at the site of the tick bite. Further symptoms include joint pain, fever, and other flu-like symptoms. Some people don’t have any symptoms at all in the early stages of lyme disease, and symptoms can begin up to a month after the tick bite. This makes it hard to diagnose sometimes, as an affected person may not even remember the tick bite, or may not mention it to their doctor since it was so long ago.

There is treatment for Lyme disease, both for dogs and humans. Especially when caught in the early stages, treatment is quite effective. Unfortunately, untreated Lyme disease can cause ongoing symptoms for a person, so it is important to see your doctor if you suspect you’ve been bitten by an infected tick!

Lyme disease and your therapy dog

So what does this have to do with animal assisted therapy (AAT)? Well, when we bring our dogs and cats into a therapeutic setting, they come into contact with others, including people who may have compromised immune systems. Lyme disease cannot be transferred from a dog to a human, so if your dog has been bitten by an infected tick there is no danger that they might transfer lyme disease. The danger is that a tick is still attached to your dog, and then transfers to a human and bites them.

It is not necessary to abstain from AAT activities during the summer, or if your dog has spent time in the woods. It is only necessary that you take precautions to ensure your dog is free of ticks before going to your AAT session. Check for ticks every day, and then be confident in the knowledge that you are doing everything you can to help protect the patients you and your dog work with.

Prevention

The best way to prevent this from happening is to groom your pet daily, and pay special attention to checking for ticks. You may want to talk to your veterinarian about sprays, vaccines, or other products to repel ticks from your dog.

If you find a tick

If you do find a tick on your dog or cat, contact your veterinarian to ask about having the tick tested, and for information on how to remove it safely.

If you find a tick on yourself or a family member, remove it safely (see ressource below) and monitor the site for the next couple of weeks. If there is any redness or rash, or if you begin to feel flu-like symptoms, visit your doctor and tell them about the tick bite.

While Lyme disease if a real danger, it is not common. Even if you or your dog has been bitten by ticks, it is unlikely that you have contracted Lyme disease. By following up on any tick bites, and seeing your doctor/veterinarian if you have any concerns, you will make sure that even if the tick had the Lyme-disease causing bacteria, you will be two steps ahead of the disease.

Have you ever had a bad day, and just wanted to snuggle with your pet when you get home? Maybe you’re too grumpy to talk to your family or friends, but taking the dog for a walk or cuddling with the cat are just what you need to make you feel better.

Children who are anxious when reading/learning to read may benefit from animal-assisted reading!

Scientific studies and anecdotal evidence both point to the fact that petting an animal, or even spending time with one, can reduce a person’s anxiety.

A paper published in 1999 in the Annals of Clinical Psychiatry found that ‘pet-facilitated therapy’ helped alleviate anxiety in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder. A previous study found that AAT sessions decreased anxiety in patients with psychotic disorders, modd disorders and other disorders.

Anxiety is often a concern in therapeutic settings, even when it is not the main focus of the therapy. Anxiety can arise from being in a new setting, such as a hospital or treatment centre, from meeting new people, such as therapists and staff.

Anxiety may also be the main focus of a therapy session. A client may have goals such as reducing irrational thoughts which trigger anxiety, or perhaps reducing avoidance of anxiety-inducing situations. For many clients, AAT can be an effective method to help work towards these goals. For example, a conversation may evolve around a dog’s unreasonable fears (such as thunder, the vaccum cleaner). A client could discuss why the dog shouldn’t be anxious about thunder, and then transfer similar thinking to their own situation.

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There are lots of questions floating around about what types of animals are used in AAT, and what type of animal is “best”. The truth is that many types of animals can be used in AAT, and a well-qualified therapist will be able to direct the session, while encompassing the animal’s behaviour, to best benefit the client.

While there is no best animal for use in AAT, different species bring different strengths, and even each individual animal finds things they are good at and things they don’t like to do. For example, some dogs may excel in group therapy, as they are happy to interact with multiple people at once.

One of Chimo’s certified therapy dogs, Flash, is always happy to play “group fetch”, where he brings the toy back to a different person each time! He wants everyone to be included in the game. In contrast, some dogs will get overwhelmed in a group situation, and they prefer to sit and cuddle with one person.

Here are a few characteristics of a few different species of animals, which may help to guide your choice of what animal to consider working with in AAT sessions.

Dogs:

most common in urban settings, and easy to bring into offices, hospitals, etc.
Provide unconditional love
Can be used passively, such as petting the dog, or actively such as walking the dog or having it do tricks
many people have past experiences with dogs, providing a starting point for a conversation about their past
Cats:

can teach clients about boundaries, as they are often quite reactive
can be used to comfort clients
work on fine motor skills through petting and brushing and
are not as intimidating to some clients as dogs
Horses:

Shanti is a miniature therapy horse, seen here with her canine buddy, Marley.

Motivators to participate
can teach clients about boundaries, as they are often quite reactive
Excellent mirrors for client behavior
Can be used for both physical and psychological/emotional therapy
Small animals, such as guinea pigs and rabbits often have a place in classroom settings as they are easy to manage. Teachers can focus on teaching empathy, calm behaviour (so as not to scare the animal), animal care skills, and even involve the animal in lessons throughout the curriculum. Turning math problems into figuring out how much food the rabbit needs, for example, can motivate students to take an interest in math.

As we can see, many species and many individual animals are appropriate for use in AAT. They will all bring their own specialities to the therapy session, and a therapist must get to know the animals they are working with.

September 8, 2017