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Kiefer: Pet therapy can lift spirits during the holidays
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Christmastime can come with feelings of anxiety and stress. Add to that the cold, rainy conditions that we get fairly often, and the short daylight duration.

Websites are full of advice, but most miss a promising venue that can help treat or prevent seasonal depression: pet therapy and pet ownership.

Therapy usually involves a therapist and a handler. Dogs and cats are the most commonly used pets. Lots of nursing homes feature regular visits from pets, and they report encouraging results.

Pet therapy has been shown to decrease depression, anxiety and feelings of isolation. In cases of severe illness, patients undergoing chemotherapy or mental health treatments have experienced remarkable improvement with the method. Mental trauma, such as the Sandy Hook tragedy of 2012, has been successfully treated with pet therapy.

In Georgia, numerous organizations offer pet therapy at nursing homes and health care centers. Examples include,, and Visits can be obtained from volunteer organizations and from commercial enterprises and therapists.

Pet ownership in the home comes with the same benefits. A University of Wisconsin-Madison study showed that children in pet-owning households developed fewer allergies. The National Institutes of Health found pet ownership can result in decreased cholesterol, triglyceride and blood pressure.

Owning a pet, or several, contributes to feelings of well-being. On the other hand, it comes with responsibilities. To remain healthy themselves, pets must have an adequate living environment. Veterinarian care is needed on a regular basis. Spaying, neutering and immunizations are a must, considering the number of stray cats and dogs in Georgia.

Rabies is a serious threat. In 2014, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that “Georgia had more people treated for rabies exposure than 45 other states.”

In the largest U.S. cities, veterinarian house calls have been available for some years, saving driving time and waiting at the clinic. In Gainesville, this is a relatively new service. Joe Waltman of points out that in-house care also eliminates the “kennel cough” and possible pneumonia that animals can contract while confined outside their normal environment.

“In-home service, available in Gainesville, also allows the veterinarian to examine the hygienic situation, and prevent future health problems for the animal,” Waltman said.

If you have a friend or relative who tends to feel “down” during the holidays, it’s well worth looking into pet ownership or pet therapy treatments.


Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at

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