How effective is animal-assisted therapy?

I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling down, I like to cuddle up with my dog to make me feel better. Dogs and cats are commonly known for making people of any ages happy. They love you no matter the circumstance and are always by your side. There is a sense of comfort to petting and holding a dog or cat.  Oxytocin levels in the body actually rise when you pet a dog or cat! Many people in hospitals involved in painful chemotherapy are given time with the animals to relieve the stress and anxiety from the pain. The animal-assisted therapy is not just for physical pain,it is also used for emotional pain such as depression. This can be seen as some sort of medicine to these people with physical and mental pain. I would like to know, how effective is animal-assisted therapy?


In this case, if we were to conduct an experiment:

H0  : The animal-assisted therapy does nothing

HA: The animal-assisted therapy improves health

The first study I researched shocked me. It was a study on how animal-assisted therapy affected the outcome of the death of the patient. 96 patients that were discharged of the critical unit of the hospital were followed after a year with a pet. 11 of the 39 recently discharged patients -or 28%- that did not have pets died. Only 3 out of 53 patients with pets -6%- died. This shocking results may have evidence towards the relaxation and comfort brought on by the pets, however, like Andrew commonly says, it may be due to chance and is a substantially small study. Also, this focused more on pets at home, rather than in the hospital which can be drastically different in my opinion. It is very interesting though how extreme the results came out with the death rate. A completely different study ( a one year controlled trial) focused on how animal-assisted therapy affected elderly patients with schizophrenia. In this one year blind controlled trial, 10 schizophrenic patients and 10 matched patients in a closed psychogeriatric ward (around the age of 80) were involved in the animal-assisted trial. Their results were measured by the Scale for Social Adaptive Functioning Evaluation, or SAFE. The therapy was then conducted in 4 hour sessions to get results. At the end of the trial the results showed that there was a substantial improvement in the wellbeing of the schizophrenic patients. This was due to the fact that the results after the baseline were drastically on the positive spectrum.

I am not surprised in this result because after a long time, these patients are less lonely, and stimulates mental activity. Animals are also non-judgemental beings in which people with disabilities and deformities have 100% love all the time whenever they’re with this animal. It is truly amazing how impactful animals are to humans. They have the power to motivate and change lives in people by enhancing their quality of life. Unfortunately as amazing as these results are that I mentioned above, most clinical trials done in this field are flawed and therefore can not be trusted. Most studies are too small -as I concluded in the first study- and may very well be due to chance. It is also difficult to measure “happiness” on a scale. As opposed to the first study, which compared deaths, the second study measured ‘well being’ which can be too general and quite difficult to accurately measure.

Most studies also have the file drawer problem, which we often talked about in class. Mostly positive results are only published because they obviously look good to the public eye because they are biased. For example, a psychologist wanted to see the effects that horseback riding 164600-169304had on 81 boys. These boys had certain emotional problems like depression, PTSD, and ADHD. No impact was found from the therapeutic horseback riding, and in fact some of the boys involved in the study actually had higher levels of anxiety and depression from leaving the animal. The study was never published, therefore creating the file drawer problem. So, animal-assisted therapy may or may not work; we will not know for now due to the difficulty of trials and the file drawer problem.

Works Cited

“Dogs and Cats Release ‘love Hormone’ around Each Other, Humans.” UPI., 28 Apr. 2014. Web. 28 Nov. 2016. <>.

@drweil. “Animal Assisted Therapy – Dr. Weil’s Wellness Therapies.” N.p., 25 July 2016. Web. 28 Nov. 2016. <>.

“Get It!” Get It! N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2016. N.p., n.d. Web. <>.

@PsychToday. “Does Animal-Assisted Therapy Really Work?” Psychology Today. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2016. <>.

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3 thoughts on “How effective is animal-assisted therapy?

  1. Maura Katherine Maguire

    Great post Rebecca! I have found animals making a big difference in my everyday life. Whether it be improving my mood or making me feel better my pets have always been there for me. I really enjoyed this post. I never considered the medical affects animals had on humans and learned a lot from your blog. My cousin has been very sick for a long time and nothing makes him feel better in his darkest times then his puppy. Really uplifting post!

  2. Lauren Eve Ribeiro

    This was a really interesting article to read. I think that animals have a certain thing about them that tells them when humans are sick or something is wrong. Over break I ended up getting really sick, and my dogs never left my side during this time. I think that your research was a little inconclusive at the end of your blog, but I think if more research had been done you could have shown substantial evidence that dogs do in fact help people who are sick and work as a healing mechanism. It would have also been important to note external variables such as does it matter what kind of dogs people have as therapy dogs? For example, the people who lived, did they have golden retrievers over german shepherds? Also, were the dogs trained to help these people? And if so were the trained properly and all given the same exact training?

  3. Danielle Megan Sobel

    Hello. I really liked this blog and the angle you took with it. However, I wish that you took a more crisp approach that had a defined answer at the end so us as readers knew a definite answer about the topic. I for one think (even without scientific evidence) that animal assisted therapy can be a huge help, because I have seen it be effective. My best friend has a chronic illness called POTS, a form of dysautonomia which affects her ability to control the bodily functions that we do not notice go on in our bodies (heart rate, digestion, body temperature, etc.). At her university, they have a program where students can use dogs as therapy resources and hang out with them while studying or have them come to their dorm if they are unable to leave, and I have seen it change her mood and outlook tremendously.

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