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Animals and Your Health: Pet-Facilitated Therapy

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IMAGE Many people have experienced the soothing quality of petting a cat or bunny, or the infectious laughter that bubbles up when tossing a ball to an energetic puppy. Animals can give us joy on many levels—helping us to forget our worries and pains, better connect with those around us, and enjoy the simple act of being alive.

For many it may not be surprising, then, that the medical field is exploring the health benefits of interacting with companion animals. In fact, many hospitals and other healthcare facilities incorporate animals as treatment tools for physical and emotional therapy.

Pet-facilitated therapy (PFT), or animal-assisted therapy, involves bringing animals to a group or individual with the hopes of providing a positive therapeutic or health effect. The therapy may occur anywhere from a Red Cross facility after a traumatic event or a nursing home or hospital. Some studies and anecdotal evidence seem to support the usefulness of animals in helping people to feel better and connect to those around them.

  • The American Veterinary Medical Association

  • Shriners Hospitals for Children

  • The Natural Connection

  • Therapeutic Paws of Canada

  • Animal-assisted therapy. American Human Society website. Available at: Accessed September 10, 2013.

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  • Francis GM, Turner J, Johnson S. Domestic animal visitation as therapy with adult home residents. Intern J Nursing Studies. 1985;22:201-206.

  • Mudzyk A, Bourque M, Guilbert H, Seguin AD, Savoye MJ. Animal assisted therapy in a nursing home. Soins Gerontol. 2011 Mar-Apr;(88):11-13.

  • Redefer LA, Goodman JF. Brief report: pet-facilitated therapy with autistic children. J Autism & Dev Disorders. 1989;19:461-467.

  • Reimer DF. Pet-facilitated therapy: An initial exploration of the thinking and theory behind an innovative intervention for children in psychotherapy. Dissertation Abstracts Intern. 1999:60(5-B):2363.

  • Sobo EJ, Eng B, Kassity-Krich N, Canine visitation (pet) therapy: Pilot data on decreases in child pain perception. J Holist Nurs. 2006;24:51-57.

  • Teeter LM. Pet therapy program: Proposal for the US Department of Health and Human Services 1996 Secretary’s Award. J American Veterinary Medical Association. 1997;210:1435-1438.