What is Pet Therapy?

Pet therapy, sometimes refered to as animal assisted therapy or pet-facilitated therapy, is ��a formal structured method whereby animals are used to aid in improving the well-being of a person suffering from psychological or physical illness or injury.�� (Moody, King & O��Rourke, 2002, p.544) Pet therapy has been found to be useful in many ways. Studies have proven that it can ease loneliness, improve communication, foster trust, reduce the need for medication by providing a diversion from pain (see Cancer Pain),improve cognitive and physical functioning, decrease stress and anxiety for patients and their families, improve self-esteem through the unconditional acceptance from the animal, and motivation for patients to participate in activities (Miller & Connor, 2000). Although dogs are the most common ��therapists�� involved in pet therapy, other species have been noted to have beneficial effects as well (Barker, 1999). They include cats, birds, fish, bunnies, llamas, potbellied pig, horses, turtles and dolphins (Barker, 1999; Dossey, 1997; Brodie et al., 2002). Nathanson and de Faria (as cited in Barker, 1999) report significant improvement in higher level cognitive responses when mentally disable children interacted with a dolphin.

Pet therapy is used in a variety of settings. These include critical and acute care, oncology, hospice, rehabilitation, long-term care, social work, psychotherapy, children��s advocacy, and prisons (Miller & Connor, 2000). Depending on which setting pet therapy is applied to, it will bring different beneficial effects to meet individual��s needs. For example, pet therapy can ease acute care patient��s stress during ventilatory weaning. On the other hand, psychotherapy patients may open up more easily and be willing to discuss difficult topic when they are petting a dog (Miller & Connor).


Barker, S. B. (1999). Therapeutic aspects of the human-companion animal interaction. Psychiatric Times, 16(2), 43-47. Retrieved October 31, 2003, from EBSCO database.

Brodie, S. J., Biley, F. C. & Shewring, M. (2002). An exploration of the potential risks associated with using pet therapy in healthcare settings. Journal of Clinical Nursing,11, 444-456. Retrieved October 31, 2003, from EBSCO database.

Dossey, L. (1997). Notes on the journey: The healing power of pets: A look at animal-assisted therapy. Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine, 3(4), 8-16. Retrieved October 31, 2003, from EBSCO database.

Miller, J. & Connor, K. (2000). Going to the dogs...for help. Nursing, 30(11), 65-67. Retrieved October 31, 2003, from EBSCO database.

Moody, W. J., King, R. & O��Rourke, S. (2002). Attitudes of paediatric medical ward staff to a dog visitation programme. Journal of Clinical Nursing,11, 537-544. Retrieved October 31, 2003, from EBSCO database.
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