Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is a type of therapy that involves animals as a form of treatment. The goal of AAT is to improve a patient’s social, emotional, or cognitive functioning. Advocates state that animals can be useful for educational and motivational effectiveness for participants. A therapist who brings along a pet may be viewed as being less threatening, increasing the rapport between patient and therapist. Animals used in therapy include domesticated pets, farm animals and marine mammals (such as dolphins). The research literature states concerns about the poor quality of medical evidence underpinning

One biophilia hypothesis is our attachment to and interest in animals stems from the strong possibility that human survival was partly dependent on signals from animals in the environment indicating safety or threat. The biophilia hypothesis suggests that now, if we see animals at rest or in a peaceful state, this may signal to us safety, security and feelings of well-being which in turn may trigger a state where personal change and healing are possible.

There are many types of AAT ranging from the use of dogs, to cats, even to small animals such as fish and hamsters. The most popular forms of AAT include Canine therapy, Dolphin therapy, and Equine therapy.



Equine Therapy



“Animal Assisted Therapy”. American Humane Association.

Beck, Alan (1983). Between Pets and People: the Importance of Animal Companionship. New York: Putnam. ISBN 0-399-12775-5.

Chur-Hansen, A.; Stern, C.; Winefield, H. (2010). “Gaps in the evidence about companion animals and human health: some suggestions for progress”. International

Journal of Evidence-Based Healthcare 8 (3): 140–146. doi:10.1111/j.1744-1609.2010.00176.x. PMID 21199382. See also: Serpell (1990), Walsh (2009), and Wilson (2006).

Schaefer K (2002) Human-animal interactions as a therapeutic intervention Counseling and Human Development, 34(5) pp.1-18.

Barker, Sandra B.; Dawson, Kathryn S. (1998). “The Effects of Animal-Assisted Therapy on Anxiety Ratings of Hospitalized Psychiatric Patients”. Psychiatric Services 49 (6): 797–801. doi:10.1176/ps.49.6.797. Retrieved 2012-03-18.

Friedmann E, Katcher AH, Lynch JJ, Thomas SA (1980). “Animal companions and one-year survival of patients after discharge from a coronary care unit”. Public Health Rep 95 (4): 307–12. PMC 1422527. PMID 6999524.

Reichert, E (1998). “Individual counseling for sexually abused children: A role for animals and storytelling”. Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal 15: 177–185. doi:10.1023/A:1022284418096.

Martindale, B. (2008). “Effect of animal-assisted therapy on engagement of rural nursing home resident”. American journal of recreation therapy 7: 45–53.

Buttner, L. L.; Fitzsimmons, S.; Barba, B. (2011). “Animal-assisted therapy for clients with dementia”. Journal of gerontological nursing 37: 10–14. doi:10.3928/00989134-20110329-05.

.Sutton, D., M. (1984). Use of pets in therapy with elderly nursing home residents. Toronto, Canada: American Psychological Association

Marx, M.; Mansfield, J.; Regier, N.; Dakheel-Ali, M.; Srihari, A.; Thein (2010). “The impact of different dog-related stimuli on engagement of persons with dementia”.

American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Dementias 25: 37–45.

“Dolphin Assisted Therapy Essentials”. Archived from the original on January 12, 2012.

Nathanson, David E. (1998). “Long-Term Effectiveness of Dolphin-Assisted Therapy for Children with Severe Disabilities”. Anthrozoös: A Multidisciplinary Journal of the Interactions of People and Animals 11 (1): 22–32. doi:10.2752/089279398787000896.

Marino, Lori; Lilienfeld, Scott O. (2007). “Dolphin-Assisted Therapy: More Flawed Data
and More Flawed Conclusions”. Anthrozoös: A Multidisciplinary Journal of the Interactions of People and Animals 20 (3): 239–249. doi:10.2752/089279307X224782.
“Dolphin ‘Therapy’ A Dangerous Fad, Researchers Warn”. Science Daily. 2007-12-18. Retrieved 2012-03-18.

Humphries, Tracy (May 2003). “Effectiveness of dolphin-assisted therapy as a behavioral intervention for young children with disabilities”. Bridges 1 (6).

Becker, Marty (2002). The Healing Power of Pets: Harnessing the Amazing Ability of Pets to Make and Keep People Happy and Healthy. New York: Hyperion. ISBN 0-7868-6808-2.
Becker 2002, p. 124.

“What is EAP and EAL?”. Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association. Retrieved 2012-03-18.
Rothe, Quiroz; et al. (2005). “From kids and horses: Equine facilitated psychotherapy for children” (PDF). International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology 5 (2): 373–383.

Klontz, B; Bivens, A.; Leinart, D.; Klontz, T. (2007). “The Effectiveness of Equine-Assisted Experiential Therapy: Results of an Open Clinical Trial”. Society & Animals 15 (3): 257–267. doi:10.1163/156853007×217195.

“Do animal-assisted activities effectively treat depression: a meta-analysis” (Critical abstract). NHS National Institute for Health Research. 4 November 2009. Retrieved 28 December 2015. “This review found some empirical support for the therapeutic effectiveness of dog-assisted activities/therapy for treating depression. The authors’ conclusions should be regarded with caution, given the poor reporting of review methods, the lack of quality assessment and the paucity of primary data” citing Souter

MA, Miller MD (2007). “Do Animal-Assisted Activities Effectively Treat Depression? A Meta-Analysis”. Anthrozoös: A Multidisciplinary Journal of the Interactions of People and Animals 20 (2): 167–180. doi:10.2752/175303707X207954. ISSN 0892-7936.

Chur-Hansen A, Zambrano SC, Crawford GB (2014). “Furry and feathered family members—a critical review of their role in palliative care”.

Am J Hosp Palliat Care (Review) 31 (6): 672–7. doi:10.1177/1049909113497084. PMID 23892336.

O’Haire ME (2013). “Animal-assisted intervention for autism spectrum disorder: a systematic literature review”. J Autism Dev Disord (Systematic review) 43 (7): 1606–22. doi:10.1007/s10803-012-1707-5. PMID 23124442. “findings in the current review should not be interpreted as evidence of the benefits of AAI for ASD; instead, they offer preliminary support for the concept of AAI, which must be replicated in larger scale, more rigorous research if it is to become a validated intervention technique for ASD.”

Stern C, Konno R (2011). “The effects of Canine-Assisted Interventions (CAIs) on the health and social care of older people residing in long term care: a systematic review”. JBI Library of Systematic Reviews (Systematic review) 9 (6): 146–206. ISSN 1838-2142.

Lilienfeld, Scott. “Is animal assisted therapy really the cat’s meow?”. Scientific American. Retrieved 2012-04-12.

Brensing, Karsten; Linke, Katrin; Busch, Melanie; Matthes, Ina; van der Woude, Sylvia Eke (2005). “Impact of different groups of swimmers on dolphins in swim-with-the-dolphin programs in two settings”. Anthrozoös 18 (4): 409–429. doi:10.2752/089279305785593956. ISSN 0892-7936.

Marino, Lori. “Dolphin-Assisted Therapy: More Flawed Data and More Flawed Conclusions”. Anthrozoös. Retrieved 2014-02-25.

[unreliable medical source?]Lefkowitz, C.; Paharia, I.; Prout, M.; Debiak, D.; Bleiberg, J. (2005). “Animal assisted prolonged exposure: A treatment for survivors of sexual assault suffering posttraumatic stress disorder”. Society Animals: Journal of Human-Animal Studies 13: 275–295. doi:10.1163/156853005774653654.

Livingston G, Kelly L, Lewis-Holmes E, Baio G, Morris S, Patel N, et al. (2014). “A
systematic review of the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of sensory, psychological and behavioural interventions for managing agitation in older adults with dementia”. Health Technol Assess 18 (39). doi:10.3310/hta18390. ISSN 1366-5278.

Serpell JA. 2006. Animal-assisted interventions in historical perspective. In: Fine AH, ed. Handbook on Animal-Assisted Therapy: Theoretical Foundations and Guidelines for Practice. San Diego: Elsevier. p 3-17

Serpell, James (2000). “Animal Companions and Human Well-Being: An Historical Exploration of the Value of Human-Animal Relationships”. Handbook on Animal-Assisted Therapy: Theoretical Foundations and Guidelines for Practice: 3–17.

Stanley Coren (2010), “Foreword”, Handbook on Animal-Assisted Therapy, Academic Press, ISBN 978-0-12-381453-1

Velde, B. P.; Cipriani, J.; Fisher, G. (2005). “Resident and therapist views of animal-assisted therapy: Implications for occupational therapy practice”. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal 52 (1): 43–50. doi:10.1111/j.1440-1630.2004.00442.x.

Further reading

Skloot, Rebecca (December 31, 2008) “Creature Comforts”, The New York Times

Additional Resources

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