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Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) integrates animals into treatment plans to aid in physical and mental health recovery. AAT employs various animals like horses, dogs, cats, and birds, tailored to individual patient needs and goals. This article explores AAT’s efficacy across a wide range of conditions and its profound benefits on patients’ well-being and health outcomes.

AAT is a dynamic therapeutic intervention used to alleviate conditions such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Its benefits include mood improvement, stress reduction, and even decreased reliance on pain medication post-surgery. This article delves into the diverse applications of AAT in settings like hospitals, prisons, and nursing homes, highlighting the vital preparations needed to ensure safe and effective interaction between animals and patients.

What is Animal-Assisted Therapy?

Animal-assisted therapy, also known as AAT or pet therapy, is a therapeutic intervention that incorporates animals into the treatment plan. AAT is designed to aid people in recovering from both physical and mental health conditions, with the therapy form varying based on the patient, the animal, and the treatment goals. It complements traditional therapy, offering comfort, reducing anxiety, and motivating patients. AAT is particularly helpful for those who struggle to connect with others.


  • Therapeutic Intervention: This refers to a treatment method designed to alleviate health problems. In the context of AAT, animals are used as part of this intervention.
  • Treatment Plan: This is a detailed plan devised by healthcare professionals to manage a patient’s disease or disorder. In AAT, the treatment plan includes the use of animals.
  • Physical and Mental Health Conditions: These are health problems that affect a person’s physical body and mental state. AAT can help in the recovery process of such conditions.

What Conditions Can Animal-Assisted Therapy Help With?

AAT can assist with a broad spectrum of conditions, including Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Depression, Anxiety, Sexual abuse victims, Dementia, Autism, and Pain. It can enhance many aspects of a patient’s life, such as improving their overall mood, reducing feelings of isolation, and improving strength and flexibility.

  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): This is a mental health condition triggered by a terrifying event. AAT can help manage the symptoms of PTSD.
  • Depression: This is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. AAT can help alleviate depression symptoms.
  • Anxiety: This is a mental health disorder characterized by feelings of worry, anxiety, or fear that are strong enough to interfere with one’s daily activities. AAT can help reduce anxiety levels.

What are the Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy?

Some benefits of AAT include reducing high blood pressure through petting a cat, improving mood through horse riding, and decreasing the need for pain medication by as much as 50% in people recovering from surgery through interaction with dogs. AAT can also decrease stress hormone cortisol, increase beneficial hormone levels like oxytocin and dopamine, and provide a feeling of companionship and acceptance.

  • Reducing High Blood Pressure: High blood pressure can be managed by petting a cat, a method used in AAT.
  • Improving Mood: Mood can be enhanced through horse riding, a form of AAT.
  • Decreasing Need for Pain Medication: Interaction with dogs in AAT can reduce the need for pain medication by up to 50% in people recovering from surgery.

Where Can Animal-Assisted Therapy be Used?

AAT can be utilized in various facilities, including hospitals, prisons, and nursing homes. Before animals start working with patients, they should undergo temperament testing, receive a complete veterinary screening, and undergo obedience training.

  • Hospitals: These are health care institutions providing patient treatment with specialized medical and nursing staff and medical equipment. AAT can be used here to aid in patient recovery.
  • Prisons: These are facilities in which inmates are forcibly confined and denied a variety of freedoms under the authority of the state. AAT can be used here to improve inmate mental health.
  • Nursing Homes: These are places providing residential accommodation with health care, especially for elderly people. AAT can be used here to improve the residents’ quality of life.

What Preparations are Needed for Animals in Animal-Assisted Therapy?

Before animals are used in AAT, they should be temperament tested, given a complete veterinary screening, and receive obedience training. These preparations ensure that the animals are safe and suitable for interaction with patients.

  • Temperament Testing: This is a process of evaluating an animal’s behavior and temperament to ensure it is suitable for AAT.
  • Veterinary Screening: This is a comprehensive health check conducted by a vet to ensure the animal is healthy and fit for AAT.
  • Obedience Training: This is a type of training that teaches animals to obey certain commands, ensuring they behave appropriately during AAT sessions.

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