Who can benefit from animal-assisted therapy?

Animal-assisted therapy can significantly reduce pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue in people with a range of health problems:

  • Children having dental procedures
  • People receiving cancer treatment
  • People in long-term care facilities
  • People hospitalized with chronic heart failure
  • Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder

And it's not only the ill person who reaps the benefits. Family members and friends who sit in on animal visits say they feel better, too. Animals also can be taught to reinforce rehabilitative behaviors in patients, such as throwing a ball or walking.

Pet therapy is also being used in nonmedical settings, such as universities and community programs, to help people deal with anxiety and stress.

Does pet therapy have risks?

The biggest concern, particularly in hospitals, is safety and sanitation. Most hospitals and other facilities that use pet therapy have stringent rules to ensure that the animals are clean, vaccinated, well-trained and screened for appropriate behavior.

It's also important to note that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has never received a report of infection from animal-assisted therapy.

Animal-assisted therapy in action

More than a dozen certified therapy dogs are part of Mayo Clinic's Caring Canines program. They make regular visit to various hospital departments and even make special visits on request. The dogs are a welcome distraction and help reduce the stress and anxiety that can accompany hospital visits.

June 17, 2015 See more In-depth