What is animal therapy?

Animal therapy is the use of animals to aid physical, social, emotional or cognitive function. This is also sometimes called pet therapy, animal-assisted therapy, or pet-assisted therapy. This article will explain animal therapy, the conditions that can be treated, the process, who promotes it, types, and more.


Animal therapy is any type of therapeutic intervention that incorporates animals. This may include support for physical, social, emotional or cognitive functioning. It can be used alone or with other interventions as part of a treatment plan.

These animals are specially trained to provide care and comfort. They are often confused with service animals and emotional support animals, but the three are different.

The main difference between therapeutic animals and service animals is that therapeutic animals provide emotional support, while service animals help people with disabilities by performing specific tasks. For example, service animals can help blind people navigate their surroundings or alert people with epilepsy that they are about to have a seizure.

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Emotional support animals are similar to therapy animals in that they both provide emotional support. However, therapy animals work with many people, while emotional support animals only work with their owners. Additionally, emotional support animals were not specially trained.

treatment condition

Therapy animals provide support for people with emotional and mental health challenges. They can also support people with poor physical health in coping with the emotional and psychological aspects of these conditions. There is also some research showing the effectiveness of treating animals to improve their physical health. For example, animal-assisted therapy can be used to reduce blood pressure and pain levels.

Therapy animals can be used to treat the following diseases:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • anxiety
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD
  • autism
  • bipolar disorder
  • cancer
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • long illness
  • chronic pain
  • cognitive impairment
  • Dementia
  • dental surgery
  • frustrated
  • discomfort
  • fears and phobias
  • sad
  • head injury
  • hypertension
  • Learning Disability
  • lonely
  • mood disorders
  • motor skills disorder
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • dependence on drugs
  • resistance to psychotherapy
  • sexual disorder
  • pressure
  • Substance use disorder or addiction
  • Tic disorder
  • trauma
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Who provides animal therapy?

Animal caretakers and their trained animals provide animal treatment. These services can be provided in various ways. Therapy animals may visit people in hospitals, schools, rehabilitation facilities, nursing facilities, nursing homes, hospice facilities. However, they do not have the same legal status as service dogs and may not be allowed access to certain facilities.

Some health care offices, such as a psychologist or therapist office, may bring therapy animals to assist with appointments. There are also designated therapy animal facilities where people specialize in animal-assisted therapy. For example, horses cannot visit patients in hospitals, but there are stables with treatment horses and procedures for people to interact with horses as therapy.

process and situation

The course of animal treatment depends on the person being treated, their unique circumstances and needs, and the availability of treatment animals and handlers.

If a therapy animal visits a medical facility, the person interested in visiting the animal may tell the caregiver that they are interested, or the caregiver may ask if they are interested. The operator can then bring the animal to the patient for a visit. Depending on the animal and comfort level, the patient may pet or hold the animal.

Therapy in the School Setting

In a school setting, the process may be similar. To attend animal therapy at a designated animal therapy facility, the process may involve a specific program or class to learn how to interact with animals. For example, a person might learn how to care for or ride a therapy horse.

Check with your school administration to determine if on-campus services are available in your area.

type of animal used

The most common type of animal used for animal therapy is the dog. However, many other animals are excellent therapy animals. Technically, any type of animal can be a therapy animal. Certain types of animals are used more frequently because of their compatibility with the services they provide.

Regardless of the species, it is important that the therapy animal is well-trained, gets along well with many different people, and has a personality appropriate to its work environment.

Treatment animals may include:

  • puppy
  • cat
  • horses
  • birds
  • rabbit
  • guinea pig
  • small reptile

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Eligibility for animal-assisted therapy depends on the situation and setting. For example, in a hospital setting, some patients at higher risk of infection may have hygiene issues. Requirements for animals depend on the facility or location, as therapy dogs do not have the same legal status as service dogs. Some requirements may include training certification, registration, insurance or vaccinations.

Emotional Support Animal Eligibility

While not eligible to purchase or adopt a pet that may offer some of the same benefits, there is an eligibility requirement to qualify for an emotional support animal to be allowed in places such as apartments where pets are not allowed.

A person receiving an emotional support animal must have a diagnosis to be eligible. A letter from a mental health professional is required. Additionally, animals must be able to live in a house or public space without causing disturbance or undue hardship to others to qualify.


The many benefits of animal therapy go well beyond comfort and emotional support. Studies have found that animal therapy can be effective in helping people relax, making breakthroughs in talk therapy sessions, lowering blood pressure and heart rate, regulating hormones, improving interactions and behaviors, and more. Promoting recovery and overall health benefits both physical and mental health.


Animal therapy is generally considered safe. However, some people may be at a higher risk of injury. For example, someone who is afraid or dislikes animals may not be suitable for animal therapy because the experience may cause additional stress that outweighs the potential benefits.

Additionally, immunocompromised individuals should consult their medical team before attempting animal therapy, as animals may carry disease without the knowledge of their handlers.


Animal therapy is the use of animals to provide comfort, emotional support, and therapeutic care to people facing a variety of health challenges in different situations. It is commonly used for mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, grief, and post-traumatic stress disorder, but can also be used for physical conditions and the emotional component of physical illness.

Most therapy animals are dogs, but cats, horses, rabbits, and any species can be used as long as they are well trained and compatible with the services they provide to those in need.

Eligibility depends on the care setting and the condition of the person being treated. Animal therapy has had many favorable outcomes, including relaxation, breakthroughs in talk therapy, symptom relief, and improved overall health.

VigorTip words

Animal therapy is a great way to improve physical and mental health, symptoms, overall health and quality of life. If you or someone you know is struggling with a physical or mental health condition, or is experiencing emotional difficulties, animal therapy may be helpful.

Discuss animal treatment options with a health care provider such as a primary care physician, psychologist, or therapist, or contact an agency that offers animal treatment services to learn more about animal support.

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