What is Animal Therapy and How Does It Work?


Animal therapy is an emerging field that has yielded positive results in treating physical and mental health issues. Through companionship, comfort, and physical contact, animals can provide support to those who may not be able to access other therapy options. Learn more about the science behind animal therapy and how it can help people cope with various conditions.

Definition and Types of Animal Therapy

Animal therapy, also known as pet therapy, is defined as the use of animals for improving physical, emotional and psychological health. There are three main types of animal therapies including animal-assisted psychotherapy, human-animal interaction therapy, and animal-assisted activities. Animal-assisted psychotherapy is focused on resolving a specific issue or problem usually through conversation and interaction with an animal therapist. Human-animal interaction therapy refers to the use of animals to create connections between humans by providing comfort and companionship. Animal-assisted activities provide companionship to people with disabilities or other limitations who may not be able to care for their own pets but need therapeutic contact with animals.


Studies have shown that animal therapy can reduce stress, provide emotional support, lower blood pressure and increase feelings of well-being. Interacting with an animal has been found to improve the morale and self-esteem of people suffering from depression, anxiety or other mental health issues. Animals also help to alleviate loneliness, build trust and motivate individuals to take part in various activities they may not be able to do on their own. can also aid in physical rehabilitation as working closely with animals helps individuals focus on something else, providing distraction from pain or discomfort.


Animal-assisted therapy can be beneficial for people with a variety of physical and emotional issues, including mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, physical disabilities, chronic pain, autism spectrum disorders and more. It is also used for patients facing terminal illnesses or end-of-life issues, as well as to comfort those in the hospital setting who may feel isolated or lonely. Furthermore, it can be used to help individuals suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic experiences.

Posttraumatic stress disorder

Animal therapy is on the rise as a legitimate form of treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Research has found evidence suggesting that animal-assisted therapy can be beneficial to PTSD sufferers. In one study, it was observed that interacting with a dog for around a week caused an 82% reduction in symptoms. In addition, the amount of anxiety and sleep medications required by the patient in this particular case decreased by half. Clearly, incorporating animals into the traumatic experience can have a positive impact on those struggling with PTSD.

Considerations for Animal Therapy in Different Settings

Animal-assisted therapy can be implemented in a variety of settings including counseling centers, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, and schools. It is important to consider which type of animal and training is most suitable for the setting. For instance, puppies or small animals are great for children while medium or large dogs may be more appropriate in hospital settings. Ensure that the animal you choose has undergone proper training as this will make sure that it behaves appropriately in different environments.

Benefits of Animal Therapy in the elderly population

Animal assisted therapy is an evidence-based practice that utilizes pet interaction and animal related activities to boost physical and mental wellbeing. Recent studies have shown that this therapeutic intervention can result in a significant improvement in quality of life when experienced by older adults. This was determined through meta-analysis with a sample size of 375 people, half in the experimental group and the other in the control group. The therapy sessions lasted around 38 minutes on average, with trials being performed between April – June of 2021.

Education and Training for Providers of Animal-Assisted Interventions

Providers of animal-assisted interventions must be educated about the appropriate selection and management of therapy animals, understand the scientific evidence for their effectiveness, recognize the principles of humane care, and possess skills to collaborate with individuals, families, and other professionals. Moreover, it is important that providers understand the importance of planning specific therapeutic activities related to each case. This can involve utilizing toys, games and techniques (i.e., grooming) that stimulate physical interaction with the animal in order to increase relaxation or emotional connectedness.