Mental health problems are more common than people think. It affects us emotionally, psychologically and socially. A person who’s mentally ill or impaired finds it difficult to think, behave, act or feel normally. Not only does affect adults but also children from an early age due to stressful lifestyles, school problems, traumas or even sexual abuse.

Mental health problems can affect anyone in the course of his/her life. In this sense, people aren’t able to enjoy life fully. Mental disorders range from minor problems such as sadness, stress, and panic attacks to more complex problems like depression, suicide thoughts, and eating disorders, among others.

It’s believed that in the USA almost 4.5% of adults suffer from mental health disorders. It means you’re not alone. It affects people from any ethnicity, sex, social class and gender. No matter what a person is going through there’s a wide range of therapies tailored for everyone.

What’s animal-assisted therapy?

A well-known therapy that suits people of all ages with different health problems is animal-assisted therapy or pet therapy. This treatment- which is becoming more and more popular these days- uses dogs or other animals to help patients to cope with and recover from a mental health disorder.

This therapy is based on the premise of the human-animal bond. It means that there’s a natural bond between people and animals, an inner desire to connect and interact with animals since- after all human beings are rational animals.

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is a type of therapy that uses companionship and interaction with animals to help individuals with physical, mental, or emotional conditions. It is a form of therapy that is intended to help improve physical, social, emotional, and cognitive functioning.

AAT is usually provided by a therapist or counselor who is trained to work with animals and a specially trained animal, such as a dog, horse, or even a dolphin, to assist in the therapy sessions. During the sessions, the therapist or counselor will work with the client and the animal to set goals and work on specific tasks and activities that are intended to promote healing and well-being.

Animals can be used to help patients in many ways, for example:

  • Dogs and horses have been used to help individuals with physical disabilities to improve their mobility and balance.
  • Pets like dogs, cats, and birds have been used to help people with mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and PTSD
  • Therapy animals can also be used to help children with autism and other developmental disorders to improve their social and communication skills

How does it work?

People who are interested in this kind of therapy can enroll in an animal-assisted program. Doctors will determine what kind of animal suits best the patient based on his/her mental disease and the kind of therapy the patient needs. BetterHelp can provide more information about the subject. The animals that a person chooses the most are dogs, horses, or birds.

This treatment basically considers the bond between a person and the animal will produce a state of calm, reduce loneliness, improve his/her mood, reduce stress, and increase social interaction. Animal therapy has many benefits not only on the mind but also on the body helping the patient to recover his/her mental balance.

Animal-assisted programs have different goals depending on the patient’s disease; goals and the kind of aid a person needs will determine how the therapy works. 

The first step in the animal-assisted program is to choose the right animal for the patient. Then, both the animal and the owner have to undergo a procedure to determine if they are suitable. The test includes a physical exam of the animal, obedience training, assessment of the animal behavior and temperament, and finally a certification issued by the sponsored organization.

Once the animal and the owner are approved, the pet is assigned to a particular therapy depending on its breed, size, age, and natural behavior will determine where it can serve.

During the treatment, the therapy basically involves the animal’s owner- who is called the handler- bringing the animal to each session. The handler will work together with doctors and the animal in the patient’s healing process. During each session, the animal’s owner will receive the doctor’s instructions and guidance to help the patient achieve his/her goal.

There are some organizations whose objective is the training of handlers. Then, they contact healthcare providers to volunteer themselves.  However, it’s not an easy process to get certified since doctors will evaluate if the animal and the owner are appropriate for therapy use. 

Animal-assisted therapy benefits

It’s proven that animal-assisted therapies provide a lot of benefits for patients who suffer from mental health problems.

In the first place, patients in the animal-assisted program improve their mood and show progress as regards control over their emotions. Also, thanks to the help of animals people improve their social as well as communication skills.

For those who suffer from anxiety or depression, animal-assisted therapy helps them to ease symptoms and reduce negative feelings, anger, sadness, and the sense of loneliness.

Assisted therapy with dogs

According to some research and studies, canine-assisted therapy provides help for patients under drug abuse rehab treatment. The main objective is to help them develop strategies to cope with life once their body is drug-free.

This treatment usually takes an hour session once a week at a rehab center where patients socialize and interact with dogs. The main goal is they can reveal personal information such as how they feel, what they’ve gone through, and the consequences of substance abuse.

Assisted therapy with horses

It’s been proven that equine-assisted therapy makes wonders for people who are mentally ill thanks to their potential in the healing process of such patients. Many people who have gone through difficult experiences such as sexual abuse bond with horses while training them.

 During this process, many people take care of animals and develop a sense of understanding about physical pain and how to respect other living things and treat them gently. This approach helps patients to heal wounds from the past and end a circle of violence.

Animal-assisted programs show to be effective on people who suffer from any kind of mental disease. However, it doesn’t mean other treatments like drug abuse rehab, individual therapy, or medication should be left aside. Pet therapy should work together with traditional approaches since they’re complementary.

This program helps people to take care of an animal and make them happy while- without realizing it- they also experience gratification in doing so. It means the sense of happiness is reciprocal.

Therapeutic healing in humans is effective through animal-assisted therapy. It can alleviate mental health symptoms, minimize pain and release endorphins associated with happiness which produce a soothing effect.

What is the goal of animal-assisted therapy?

The goal of animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is to improve the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive functioning of individuals with a variety of conditions. AAT can be used to help individuals with physical disabilities to improve their mobility and balance, people with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD, and children with autism and other developmental disorders to improve their social and communication skills.

AAT can help to achieve these goals by:

  • Providing a non-judgmental and supportive environment that encourages healing and well-being.
  • Offering an alternative form of therapy that is less intimidating and more engaging for some individuals, particularly children and people with cognitive impairments.
  • Helping to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression by providing a sense of companionship and emotional support.
  • Improving physical functioning by providing opportunities for exercise, movement and other physical activities.
  • Encouraging social interaction, communication, and emotional expression.
  • Helping individuals to learn new skills and develop new coping strategies for dealing with their conditions.

Overall, the goal of AAT is to provide a safe, supportive and engaging environment that can promote healing and well-being for people with a variety of conditions.

Who does animal therapy help?

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) can help a wide range of individuals with a variety of conditions, including:

  • Individuals with physical disabilities: AAT can be used to help individuals with physical disabilities to improve their mobility and balance. For example, therapy dogs can be used to help individuals who are recovering from a stroke or spinal cord injury to improve their ability to walk and move.

  • Individuals with mental health conditions: AAT can be used to help individuals with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. For example, therapy dogs can be used to help veterans with PTSD to cope with symptoms such as anxiety and flashbacks.

  • Children with developmental disorders: AAT can be used to help children with developmental disorders such as autism and ADHD to improve their social and communication skills. For example, therapy animals can be used to help children with autism to practice interacting with others and to improve their ability to express emotions.

  • Elderly people: AAT can be used to help older adults who are living in care facilities or nursing homes to cope with feelings of isolation and loneliness. For example, therapy dogs can be used to provide companionship and emotional support to older adults.

  • Individuals recovering from addiction: AAT can be used to help individuals recovering from addiction to cope with feelings of stress and anxiety. For example, therapy dogs can be used to provide emotional support and to help individuals develop new coping strategies for dealing with their addiction.

Overall, AAT can be beneficial for a wide range of individuals with a variety of conditions, as it can help to improve physical, social, emotional, and cognitive functioning.

What’s animal therapy for?

Animal therapy, also known as animal-assisted therapy or pet therapy, involves interactions between humans and animals to promote therapeutic benefits. This form of therapy utilizes animals as a means to enhance physical, emotional, social, or cognitive well-being. Animal therapy can be used in various settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, schools, rehabilitation centers, and mental health facilities. The primary purposes of animal therapy include:

  1. Emotional Support: Animals, particularly gentle and trained ones such as therapy dogs or cats, offer unconditional love, companionship, and comfort. Interacting with animals has been shown to reduce feelings of anxiety, stress, and loneliness. Spending time with animals can elevate mood, increase feelings of happiness and relaxation, and provide emotional support during challenging times.

  2. Stress Reduction: Animal therapy has a calming effect on individuals. The presence of animals has been found to lower blood pressure, reduce heart rate, and decrease stress hormone levels such as cortisol. Engaging with animals, such as petting, grooming, or playing with them, triggers the release of endorphins, which are natural mood-boosting chemicals in the brain.

  3. Physical Rehabilitation: Animal therapy can be beneficial for individuals undergoing physical rehabilitation. Interacting with animals can motivate and encourage patients to engage in physical activities, such as walking a therapy dog or participating in equine-assisted therapy. These activities can improve motor skills, coordination, and balance, as well as promote muscle strength and mobility.

  4. Social Interaction: Animals can facilitate social interaction and improve social skills. In group settings or therapy sessions involving animals, individuals are more likely to engage in conversation, initiate interactions, and form connections with others. Animals can act as a bridge between people, helping to reduce social anxiety and providing a topic of conversation.

  5. Cognitive Stimulation: Animal therapy can stimulate cognitive functioning and provide mental stimulation. Engaging in activities with animals, such as training, problem-solving tasks, or memory games, can enhance cognitive skills such as attention, memory, and problem-solving abilities. Animal-assisted therapy has been particularly effective for individuals with cognitive impairments, including those with Alzheimer’s disease or developmental disabilities.

  6. Motivation and Engagement: The presence of animals can increase motivation and engagement in therapy or treatment. For example, children may be more willing to participate in therapy sessions when animals are involved, making the process more enjoyable and effective. Animals can serve as a positive and non-judgmental source of motivation and encouragement.

It’s important to note that animal therapy should be conducted under the guidance of trained professionals who understand the ethical considerations, safety protocols, and appropriate animal selection for therapy purposes. Animals involved in therapy programs are typically well-trained, well-behaved, and evaluated for suitability to ensure the well-being and safety of both humans and animals involved.

Does animal therapy help with depression?

Yes, animal therapy can be beneficial in helping individuals with depression. Interacting with animals, such as therapy dogs or cats, has been shown to have a positive impact on emotional well-being and can complement traditional treatments for depression. Here are some ways in which animal therapy can help individuals with depression:

  1. Mood Enhancement: Animals have a natural ability to lift spirits and provide companionship. Spending time with animals can increase the production of feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine, which are associated with improved mood and reduced symptoms of depression.

  2. Stress Reduction: Interacting with animals has a calming effect on the nervous system and can help reduce stress and anxiety levels. Animals provide a sense of comfort, support, and non-judgmental presence, which can alleviate symptoms of depression and promote relaxation.

  3. Increased Social Interaction: Individuals with depression often experience social withdrawal and isolation. Animal therapy can act as a catalyst for social interaction. Animals can serve as a bridge between people, making it easier for individuals with depression to engage in conversation, connect with others, and feel a sense of belonging.

  4. Exercise and Routine: Taking care of animals requires physical activity, such as walking or playing with them. Engaging in these activities as part of animal therapy encourages individuals to establish a routine and engage in regular exercise. Physical exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on mood and overall well-being.

  5. Sense of Purpose and Responsibility: Caring for animals in therapy programs can provide individuals with a sense of purpose and responsibility. Having something to take care of and nurture can give individuals a sense of fulfillment and self-worth, which can be particularly beneficial for individuals with depression who may struggle with feelings of low self-esteem.

  6. Distraction and Pleasure: Animals can provide a positive distraction from negative thoughts and ruminations. Interacting with animals can bring joy, pleasure, and a sense of enjoyment, which can help individuals shift their focus away from their depressive symptoms and engage in more positive experiences.

It’s important to note that while animal therapy can be a valuable adjunct to treatment for depression, it should not be considered a substitute for professional mental health care. Animal therapy is most effective when integrated into a comprehensive treatment plan that may include therapy, medication, and other evidence-based approaches for managing depression. Consulting with a healthcare professional or therapist is essential to determine the most suitable treatment options for individual needs.


Overall, AAT is designed to promote healing and well-being by providing a non-judgmental, supportive environment in which individuals can work on their physical, emotional, and cognitive goals.

Categories: Health

Nicolas Desjardins

Hello everyone, I am the main writer for SIND Canada. I've been writing articles for more than 12 years and I like sharing my knowledge. I'm currently writing for many websites and newspapers. I always keep myself very informed to give you the best information. All my years as a computer scientist made me become an incredible researcher. You can contact me on our forum or by email at [email protected].