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Reptiles and Their Therapeutic Potential

Reptile Therapy
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Reptiles and Their Therapeutic Potential

Although the therapeutic benefits of dogs and cats are well researched, the less-represented reptiles also have a lot of potential to provide mental health benefits. 

Reptiles might not be the first animals that come to mind when one thinks of therapeutic companions, but they have gained recognition in some circles for their unique benefits. The practice of using reptiles in therapeutic settings is sometimes referred to as “reptile therapy” or “herpetotherapy.” Here are some insights based on existing literature and observations:

Reptiles’ Therapeutic Effects

Predictability and Routine: Reptiles, such as tortoises or snakes, have predictable behaviours. For individuals who might feel overwhelmed by the unpredictability of mammals or birds, the consistent routines of reptiles can provide a sense of stability.

Tactile Stimulation: The unique texture of reptile skin can be fascinating. For some, touching or holding a reptile can be a grounding experience, providing a distinctive tactile sensation that distracts and calms the mind.

Low-Emotional Demand: Unlike dogs or cats, reptiles generally have fewer overt emotional needs. For individuals who might feel overwhelmed by the emotional demands of more expressive pets, reptiles offer companionship without the added stress.

Educational Engagement: Caring for reptiles can be an educational experience, as they often require specialized care. This can be intellectually stimulating and provide a sense of accomplishment.

Research and Observations

A 2013 study by Marguerite E O’Haire, et al, explored the effects of classroom pets, which included reptiles, on the social skills of children with autism. The findings suggested that the presence of classroom pets might promote social interaction and improve certain social skills. 

Educational and therapy programs often incorporate reptiles as a means to engage individuals and teach responsibility, discipline, and empathy. Reptiles can be especially effective in capturing the interest of those who might not be responsive to traditional therapy animals.

There’s also an observed benefit in reducing fear and misconceptions. Interacting with reptiles in a controlled environment can help individuals overcome irrational fears and develop a sense of confidence and accomplishment.

Incorporating Reptiles into Therapeutic Practices

Controlled Interactions: Considering some people have phobias of reptiles, it’s essential to ensure interactions are consensual and controlled.

Education: Alongside interactions, providing knowledge about reptiles can be beneficial. It can change misconceptions and foster a sense of respect for these animals.

Care Routine: Engaging individuals in the care routine of reptiles, from feeding to habitat cleaning, can instil a sense of responsibility.

While mainstream acceptance of reptiles as therapeutic animals is still growing, their potential benefits cannot be dismissed. For the right individuals, reptiles can offer a unique, calming, and educational therapeutic experience. As with all therapeutic practices, it’s essential to ensure the welfare of the animal and the safety and comfort of the individual involved.

(See also our articles Birds And Their Therapeutic Brilliance, Cats And Calmness – The Silent Soothers, The Healing Paws – How Your Canine Helps Relieve Anxiety, Fish and Their Psychological Benefits)

Further Reading and Recommendations

Lizards in the Classroom: A Guide to Reptile Care and Education by Phil Peak – A manual on caring for reptiles, emphasizing their educational potential.

What Reptiles Want and Need by Clint Laidlaw – An exploration into the needs and behaviours of reptiles, offering insights for potential caregivers.


O’Haire ME, McKenzie SJ, Beck AM, Slaughter V. Social behaviors increase in children with autism in the presence of animals compared to toys. PLoS One. 2013;8(2):e57010. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057010. Epub 2013 Feb 27. PMID: 23468902; PMCID: PMC3584132.

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