Related Terms

  • AAA, AAT, animal-assisted activities, animal-assisted therapy, animals in human therapy, canine visitation therapy, companion animal therapy, CVT, pet-assisted therapy, pet-facilitated therapy.


  • Animal companionship has been used as an informal source of comfort and relief of suffering across cultures throughout history.
  • For over 40 years, pet therapy has been a subject of serious study for nursing and other healthcare disciplines concerned with emotional well-being and quality of life.
  • Pet therapy is used with people of all ages, but particularly with children and the elderly.
  • Pet therapy offers psychological benefits in terms of emotional connection, stress reduction, and reduced feelings of loneliness or isolation.
  • Pet therapy is used in clinical programs to treat social or emotional difficulties and communication disorders.

Evidence Table


    These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.

    Quality of life

    Pet therapy may benefit both patients and caregiving staff in a hospice setting. In one study, the presence of a dog was found to encourage staff-patient interactions, ease patient-visitor relations, and improve staff and patient morale. The preferred interactions with the dog were those that had a relaxing or comforting effect on the human. Not all patients, however, may be interested in contact with an animal.

    Alzheimer’s dementia

    In the institutionalized elderly, there is evidence that pet therapy may reduce depression and blood pressure, reduce irritability, reduce agitation and increase social interaction. In Alzheimer’s disease there is evidence that the presence of a companion animal may increase social behaviors such as smiles, laughs, looks, leans, touches, verbalizations, name-calling, or others. While suggestive, support for the use of pet therapy in Alzheimer’s dementia remains preliminary. Further research is required.


    Evidence from preliminary study indicates that pet ownership may have additive value in patients with hypertension who are taking conventional blood pressure medication; however, further research is necessary before any conclusion can be drawn.

    Invasive medical procedures

    Evidence remains unclear as to the extent to which pet therapy may be of value in reducing anxiety and depression in invasive medical procedures. Data from institutionalized psychiatric patients being treated with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) are similarly inconclusive. More studies are needed to determine the value of pet therapy in preparing people for invasive or unpleasant procedures.

    Loneliness in the elderly

    Pet therapy has been shown to reduce loneliness and depression in residents of long-term care facilities, particularly in people with a prior history of pet ownership. The presence of a pet has also been found to lead to increased verbal interactions among residents. While promising, research remains insufficient upon which to base recommendations. Further study is required.

    Mental illness

    Preliminary evidence indicates that the presence of a pet dog among psychiatric inpatients promotes social interactions. In people with schizophrenia, there is evidence that pet therapy may lead to improved interest in rewarding activities as well as better use of leisure time and improved motivation. There is also evidence of improvement in socialization skills, independent living, and general well-being. While suggestive, additional research remains necessary.

    Nutrition in Alzheimer’s patients

    Evidence from limited study had indicated that animal-assisted therapy in the form of a fish aquarium in an institutional care facility for people with Alzheimer’s disease may improve nutritional intake, improve weight gain, and reduce the need for nutritional supplementation. However, research remains preliminary. Further study is required.

    Pain (pediatric)

    Based on preliminary study, canine visitation therapy (CVT) may be an effective adjunct to traditional pain management for children. However, additional study is necessary before a conclusion may be drawn.

*Key to grades:



    The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.



    Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.


  • This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration ().



    Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to . Selected references are listed below.

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  • Banks MR, Banks WA. The effects of animal-assisted therapy on loneliness in an elderly population in long-term care facilities. J Gerontol.A Biol Sci Med Sci 2002;57(7):M428-M432.
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  • Barker SB, Pandurangi AK, Best AM. Effects of animal-assisted therapy on patients’ anxiety, fear, and depression before ECT. J ECT 2003;19(1):38-44.
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  • Churchill M, Safaoui J, McCabe BW, et al. Using a therapy dog to alleviate the agitation and desocialization of people with Alzheimer’s disease. J Psychosoc Nurs Ment Health Serv 1999;37(4):16-22.
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  • Edwards NE, Beck AM. Animal-assisted therapy and Nutrition in Alzheimer’s disease. West J Nurs Res 2002;24(6):697-712.
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  • Enoch DA, Karas JA, Slater JD, et al. MRSA carriage in a pet therapy dog. J Hosp Infect 2005;60(2):186-188.
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  • Fick KM. The influence of an animal on social interactions of nursing home residents in a group setting. Am J Occup Ther 1993;47(6):529-534.
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  • Guay DR. Pet-assisted therapy in the nursing home setting: potential for zoonosis. Am J Infect Control 2001;29(3):178-186.
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  • Hall PL, Malpus Z. Pets as therapy: effects on social interaction in long-stay psychiatry. Br.J Nurs. 11-23-2000;9(21):2220-2225.
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  • Jessen J, Cardiello F, Baun MM. Avian companionship in alleviation of depression, loneliness, and low morale of older adults in skilled rehabilitation units. Psychol Rep 1996;78(1):339-348.
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  • Kovacs Z, Kis R, Rozsa S, et al. Animal-assisted therapy for middle-aged schizophrenic patients living in a social institution. A pilot study. Clin.Rehabil 2004;18(5):483-486.
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  • Nathans-Barel I, Feldman P, Berger B, et al. Animal-assisted therapy ameliorates anhedonia in schizophrenia patients. A controlled pilot study. Psychother Psychosom 2005;74(1):31-35.
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  • Richeson NE. Effects of animal-assisted therapy on agitated behaviors and social interactions of older adults with dementia. Am J Alzheimers Dis Other Demen 2003;18(6):353-358.
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  • Sobo EJ, Eng B, Kassity-Krich N. Canine visitation (pet) therapy: pilot data on decreases in child pain perception. J Holist Nurs 2006 Mar;24(1):51-7.
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  • Stasi MF, Amati D, Costa C, et al. Pet-therapy: a trial for institutionalized frail elderly patients. Arch Gerontol Geriatr Suppl 2004;(9):407-412.
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