The Who, What, Where, When and Sometimes, Why.

Pet therapy

Pet therapy

What is it?

Pet therapy involves using trained animals to help people cope with or recover from diseases and conditions. Animals are selected for pet therapy based on their friendliness, their ability to interact in a non-threatening way, or simply the companionship they provide.

Pet therapy is used to help improve quality of life, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, anxiety associated with a risky pregnancy, dementia, depression, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), high blood pressure, pain, stress, autism, down syndrome, diabetes, muscle strength, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), pain after surgery, spinal cord injury, schizophrenia, and psychological well-being.

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.

The Effectiveness ratings for Pet therapy are as follows:

Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for…

  • Anxiety. Some early research shows that pet therapy reduces anxiety in hospitalized psychiatric patients. But it doesn’t seem to work better than routine therapeutic recreation sessions. And other early research shows that pet therapy doesn’t reduce anxiety in psychiatric patients .
  • ADHD. Early research shows that interaction with a therapy dog twice weekly improves attention and hyperactivity in children with ADHD according to their parents’ assessment.
  • Memory loss (dementia). Early research shows that exposure to a therapy dog improves mood and mental function, reduces agitation, and improves social behavior in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Other research suggests that daily pet therapy for 3 weeks reduces agitation and improves interaction in people with memory loss (dementia).
  • Psychological well-being. Early research shows that pet therapy visits from a cat three times per week for 6 weeks does not improve depression in the elderly. Other early research shows that pet therapy with dogs does not improve psychological well-being in elderly people with age-related disabilities.
  • Schizophrenia. Early research shows that using a therapy dog during treatment sessions for schizophrenia improves motivation and the level of pleasure derived from every day activities compared to treatment sessions alone. Other early research shows that using a therapy cat or dog helps improves social behavior, daily living, and well-being in people with this condition.
  • Pain after surgery. Early research shows that pet therapy with dogs reduces physical and emotional pain after surgery in children.
  • Complications during pregnancy. Early research shows that short-term exposure to a therapy dog improves mood and reduces anxiety in women with high-risk pregnancies.
  • Autism.
  • Depression.
  • Diabetes.
  • Muscle strength.
  • Pain.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Quality of life.
  • Spinal cord injury.
  • Stress.
  • Other conditions.

More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of pet therapy for these uses.

Pet therapy might help reduce stress and promote relaxation. This might reduce the risk of symptoms in stress-related conditions. Pet therapy might also reduce feelings of isolation or loneliness.

Aspects of pet therapy that involve physical touch might stimulate pleasure in the brain, which encourages relaxation and well-being. Pet therapy might also work by distracting patients from pain and activating comforting thoughts.

Pet therapy is LIKELY SAFE when used appropriately and when pet therapy does not take the place of proven treatments.

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

Pet therapy should not be used in place of standard treatments for diagnosed conditions.

Special Precautions & Warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of pet therapy during pregnancy and breast-feeding. However, there’s no reason to suspect safety concerns when used correctly.

Children: Pet therapy is LIKELY SAFE when used appropriately.

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.

There are no known interactions with herbs and supplements.

There are no known interactions with foods.

The appropriate or safe use of pet therapy depends on several factors such as the condition being treated or the person administering the treatment. Be sure to seek and follow relevant directions from your physician or other healthcare professional before using this treatment.

The basic purpose of pet therapy is to provide simple companionship. The most commonly used animals in pet therapy are dogs, which allow for the best level of interaction. However, cats, birds, fish, horses, and other animals have also been used for therapeutic purposes.


Natural Medicines disclaims any responsibility related to medical consequences of using any medical product. Effort is made to ensure that the information contained in this monograph is accurate at the time it was published. Consumers and medical professionals who consult this monograph are cautioned that any medical or product related decision is the sole responsibility of the consumer and/or the health care professional. A legal License Agreement sets limitations on downloading, storing, or printing content from this Database. Except for any possible exceptions written into your License Agreement, no reproduction of this monograph or any content from this Database is permitted without written permission from the publisher. Unlawful to download, store, or distribute content from this site.

For the latest comprehensive data on this and every other natural medicine, health professionals should consult the Professional Version of the Natural Medicines. It is fully referenced and updated daily.

© Copyright 1995-2019. Therapeutic Research Faculty, publishers of Natural Medicines, Prescriber’s Letter, and Pharmacist’s Letter. All rights reserved.
PH (209) 472-2244



Discover the different ways you can help

Get Involved


1-877 GO KOMEN

In Your Own Words

Give hope to others in your situation

Share Your Story or Read Others