The first documented case of using pets or animals during therapy occurred as early as 1792. Almost two centuries later, research by Boris Levinson in 1961 suggested that a dog's presence brought a positive focus during therapy, supporting communication and the development of client rapport. In 1975, animal therapy was introduced to a nursing home setting where residents were noted to have improved physical, social and psychological status.
Since the 1990s, extensive research has occurred to understand the therapeutic role and impact of animals. Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) has been used in rehabilitation settings by having a client or patient walk or play with a dog. These activities are designed to improve muscle strength and fine motor control skills while engaging in meaningful activities. Regarding mental health settings, animals have been used to reduce anxiety and loneliness and increase a sense of connection to a living being.
AAT has been used with people across the lifespan, including children living with cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorders, developmental neurological disorders, sensory processing disorders, muscle and degenerative neurological disorders (Sahin et al., 2019). AAT has also been used to treat adult populations diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic neurological conditions, head trauma, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, anxiety, and depression (Sahin et al., 2019). Animals are able to create immediate feelings of relaxation and provide people with a method to reduce stress and can increase the quality of life by positively contributing to a sense of well-being and spiritual connection.
1. Nimer, J., & Lundahl, B. (2007). Animal-assisted therapy: A meta-analysis. Anthrozoös, 20(3), 225-238.
2. Şahin, S., Kose, B., & Zarif, M. (2018). Animal-Assisted Therapy in Occupational Therapy. In Occupational Therapy-Therapeutic and Creative Use of Activity