Animal-Assisted Therapy

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What is it?

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) involves using trained animals to help people cope with or recover from different health conditions.

AAT might help reduce stress and promote relaxation. It might also reduce feelings of loneliness. AAT that involves physical touch might stimulate pleasure in the brain. This seems to promote relaxation and well-being. AAT might also work by distracting patients from pain and activating comforting thoughts.

People use AAT for anxiety. It is also used for pain, muscle strength, dementia, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and many other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support most of these uses.

It is effective?
Natural Medicines rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.

Possibly Effective for …

  • Anxiety. A single session of animal-assisted therapy (AAT) reduces anxiety in adults and children. Dogs are the most common animal used in AAT for anxiety. It’s not clear if AAT helps reduce anxiety long-term.

There is interest in using AAT for a number of other purposes, but there isn’t enough reliable information to say whether it might be helpful.

How does it work?

Is there concern for the safety of its use?
Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is likely safe when used appropriately along with standard treatments. AAT should not be used in place of standard treatments.

Some people might be allergic to certain animals used in AAT. There have also been reports of animals carrying diseases that have been transmitted to patients. Animals used for AAT should always be screened by a veterinarian.

Special Precautions & Warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: There isn’t enough reliable information to know if AAT is safe to use when pregnant or breast-feeding. But there’s no reason to suspect safety concerns when used correctly.

Children: AAT is likely safe when used appropriately.

Are there any drug interactions?
It is not known if this treatment interacts with any medicines. Before using this treatment, talk with your health professional if you take any medications.

Are there any interactions with herbs and supplements?
There are no known interactions with herbs and supplements.

Are there any interactions with food?
There are no known interactions with foods.

What dose is used?
Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is used in various ways. Specific goals of treatment are set before therapy starts. Animals are selected based on their friendliness and companionship. The most commonly used animals are dogs, which allow for the best level of interaction. But cats, birds, fish, horses, and other animals have also been used for therapeutic purposes.

AAT is used in mental health treatment sessions, group therapy, recreation therapy, activity therapy, and day-treatment programs. Seek and follow relevant directions from your physician or other healthcare professional before using this treatment.

By what other names is the product known?
Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA), Animal-Assisted Education, Animal-Assisted Intervention (AAI), Animal-Facilitated Therapy, Animal Companionship, Animals In Human Therapy, Animal Visitation, Canine-Assisted Ambulation, Canine-Assisted Therapy, Canine Therapy, Canine Visitation Therapy (CVT), Companion Animal Therapy, Dog-Assisted Therapy, Dolphin-Assisted Therapy, Equine-Assisted Activity, Equine-Assisted Activities and Therapies (EAAT), Equine-Assisted Therapy, Equine Therapy, Hippotherapy, Horse-Riding Therapy, Pet-Assisted Therapy, Pet-Facilitated Therapy, Pet Therapy, Psychoeducational Horseback Riding, Therapeutic Horseback Riding.

Information on this website is for informational use only and is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. While evidence-based, it is not guaranteed to be error-free and is not intended to meet any particular user’s needs or requirements or to cover all possible uses, safety concerns, interactions, outcomes, or adverse effects. Always check with your doctor or other medical professional before making healthcare decisions (including taking any medication) and do not delay or disregard seeking medical advice or treatment based on any information displayed on this website.

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