Research highlights impact of Animal Therapy for people of all ages

As Tori Rodriguez, MA, LPC, psychotherapist and freelance writer, highlights in her article Animal-Assisted Therapy Linked to Psychological Benefits in the Psychiatry Advisor

  • The American Humane Association’s Therapy Animals Supporting Kids (TASK)™ program recommends the use of animals to help put children at ease during forensic interviews regarding sexual abuse.

“The results suggest that the presence of the canine in the forensic interview may have acted as a buffer or safeguard for the children when disclosing details of sexual abuse,” the authors wrote in a paper last year in the Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, and that “having a certified handler-canine team available during the forensic interview on physiological measures of stress has real-world value for children, child welfare personnel, and clinical therapists.”

  • A randomized controlled trial (RCT) reported last year in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found significant improvements associated with therapeutic horseback riding in 127 children with ASD.

After the intervention, they showed improved measures of irritability, hyperactivity, social cognition and communication and number of words and new words spoken.

  • In an study published in 2013, patients with dementia living in residential care who received 11 weeks of dog-assisted therapy had greater improvements in depression scores compared to patients who received human-only therapy.


The power and value of Animal Therapy (of the therapeutic connection between human and animal) becomes clearer with each of these studies and as the VA and others continue to evaluate its impact.

It is time for the healthcare system to embrace Animal Therapy and ensure it is no longer the exception but rather the rule when the patient, family and clinician have determined it is an important component of their co-created care path.

Not doing so leaves an important tool in the tool box when in fact it should be wielded by professionals with an eye on the well-being of patients, families and the animals themselves.

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