Animal-Assisted Therapy: Benefits and Challenges

  • Mary Cole
  • Maureen Howard


As counsellors working in southern Alberta, Canada, we have been fortunate to practice animal-assisted therapy to supplement more traditional counselling methods. We have seen that the presence of an animal can speed up rapport building, break down communication barriers and create a meaningful platform for learning, personal growth and desired change. At the same time, we have also directly experienced the challenges and ethical considerations when working with therapy animals.


Farm Animal Animal Welfare Rapport Building Oxytocin Level Animal Welfare Issue 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Aanderson KW (2008) Paws on purpose: Implementing an animal assisted therapy program for children and youth, including those with FASD and developmental disabilities. The Chimo Project, EdmontonGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderson WP, Reid CM, Jennings GL (1992) Pet ownership and risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Med J Aust 157(5):298–301Google Scholar
  3. Animal Welfare Council (2012) Animal Welfare welfare vs rights. Accessed 27 July 2012
  4. Animal Welfare Foundation of Canada (2012) The Animal Welfare Foundation of Canada. Accessed 10 July 2012
  5. Batson K, McCabe B, Baun MM, Wilson C (1998) The effect of a therapy dog on socialization and physiological indicators of stress in persons diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. In: Wilson CC, Turner DC (eds) Companion animals in human health. Sage Publications, Inc, Thousand OaksGoogle Scholar
  6. Baun MM, McCabe BW (2000) The role animals play in enhancing quality of life for the elderly. In: Fine A (ed) Animal assisted therapy: theoretical foundations and guidelines for practice. Academic, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  7. Beck A, Katcher A (1996) Between pets and people: the importance of animal companionship (revised edition). Purdue University Press, West LafayetteGoogle Scholar
  8. Beck A, Katcher A (2003) Future directions in human-animal bond Research. Am Behav Sci 47(1):79–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Behling RJ, Haefner J, Stowe M (2011) Animal programs and animal assisted therapy in Illinois long-term care facilities twenty years later (1990–2010). Acad Health Care Manag J 7(2):109–117Google Scholar
  10. Berget B, Braastad BO (2011) Animal-assisted therapy with farm animals for persons with psychiatric disorders. Ann Ist Super Sanita 47(4):384–390PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Braun C, Stangler T, Narveson J, Pettingell S (2009) Animal-assisted therapy as a pain relief intervention for children. Complement Ther Clin Pract 15(2):105–109PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (2012) The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. Accessed 16 June 2012
  13. Chandler CK (2005) Animal assisted therapy in counseling. Routledge, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  14. Chandler CK, Fernando DM, Barrio Minton CA, O’Callaghan DM, Portrie-Bethke TL (2010) Matching animal-assisted therapy techniques and intentions with counseling guiding. J Ment Health Couns 32(4):354Google Scholar
  15. Edwards NE, Beck AM (2002) Animal-assisted therapy and nutrition in Alzheimer’s disease. West J Nurs Res 24(6):697–712PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Equine-Assisted Growth and Learning Association (2012) The Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association. Accessed 10 June 2012
  17. Fine A (2000) Animals and therapists: incorporating animals in outpatient psychotherapy. In: Fine A (ed) Animal assisted therapy: theoretical foundations and guidelines for practice. Academic, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  18. Flom BL (2005) Counseling with pocket pets: using small animals in elementary counseling programs. Prof Sch Couns 8(5):1–5Google Scholar
  19. Fredrickson M, Howie AR (2000) Considerations in selecting animals for animal- assisted therapy: part B. In: Fine A (ed) Animal assisted therapy: theoretical foundations and guidelines for practice. Academic, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  20. Friedmann E, Katcher AH, Lynch JJ, Thomas SA (1980) Animal companions and one-year survival of patients after discharge from a coronary care unit. Public Health Rep 95(4):307–312PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Gagnon J, Bouchard F, Landry M, Belles-Isles M, Fortier M, Fillion L (2004) Implementing a hospital-based animal therapy program for children with cancer: a descriptive study. Can Oncol Nurs J 14(4):217–222PubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Gorczyca K, Fine A, Spain CV (2000) History, theory, and development of human-animal support services for people with AIDS and other chronic/terminal illnesses. In: Fine A (ed) Animal assisted therapy: theoretical foundations and guidelines for practice. Academic, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  23. Green Chimneys. Green Chimneys International. Who we are. Accessed 13 July 2012
  24. Gregg B (2012) Crossing the berm: an occupational therapists’ perspective on animal-assisted therapy in a deployed setting. US Army Med Dep J, April–June:55–56Google Scholar
  25. Hamama L, Hamama-Raz Y, Dagan K, Greenfeld H, Rubinstein C, Ben-Ezra M (2011) A preliminary study of group intervention along with basic canine training among traumatized teenagers: a 3-month longitudinal study. Child Youth Serv Rev 33(10):1975–1980CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hart E (2000) Understanding animal behavior, species, and temperament as applied to interaction with specific populations. In: Fine A (ed) Animal assisted therapy: theoretical foundations and guidelines for practice. Academic, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  27. Hatch A (2007) The view from all fours: a look at an animal-assisted activity program from the animals’ perspective. Anthrozoos 20(1):37–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Headey B, Grabka M (2007) Pets and human health in Germany and Australia: national longitudinal results. Soc Indic Res 80(2):297–311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hippotherapy (2012) The American Hippotherapy Association Incorporated: hippotherapy as a treatment strategy. Accessed 4 July 2012
  30. International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations (2012) IAHAIO: about us – mission and goals. Accessed 5 June 2012
  31. Katcher AH, Wilkins GG (2000) The centaur’s lessons: therapeutic education through care of animals and nature study. In: Fine A (ed) Animal assisted therapy: theoretical foundations and guidelines for practice. Academic, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  32. Kazdin AE (2010) Methodological standards and strategies for establishing the evidence base of animal-assisted therapies. In: Fine A (ed) Animal assisted therapy: theoretical foundations and guidelines for practice, 3rd edn. Academic, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  33. Leimer G (1997) Indication of remedial vaulting for anorexia nervosa. In: Engel BT (ed) Rehabilitation with the aid of a horse: a collection of studies. Barbara Engel Therapy Services, DurangoGoogle Scholar
  34. Levinson BM (1964) Pets: a special technique in child psychotherapy. Ment Hyg 48:243–248PubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Macfarland, JM, Ganzert, R (2012) Canines and childhood cancer: examining the effects of therapy dogs with childhood cancer patients and their families. Accessed 19 June 2012
  36. Mallon G (1994) Cow as co-therapist: utilization of farm animals as therapeutic aides with children in residential treatment. Child Adolesc Soc Work J 11(6):455–474CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mallon GP, Ross SB, Ross L (2000) Designing and implementing animal- assisted therapy programs in health and mental health organizations. In: Fine A (ed) Animal assisted therapy: theoretical foundations and guidelines for practice. Academic, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  38. Marcus D, Bernstein C, Constantin J, Kunkel F, Breuer P, Hanlon R (2012) Animal-assisted therapy at an outpatient pain management clinic. Pain Med 13:45–57PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Marr CA, French L, Thompson D, Drum L, Greening G, Mormon J et al (2000) Animal-assisted therapy in psychiatric rehabilitation. Anthrozoos 13:43–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Marx MS, Cohen-Mansfield J, Riger NG, Dakheel-Ali M, Srihari A, Thein K (2010) The impact of different dog-related stimuli of engagement of persons with dementia. Am J Alzheimers Dis Other Demen 25(1):37–45PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Matuszek S (2010) Animal-facilitated therapy in various patient populations: systematic literature review. Holist Nurs Pract 24(4):187–203PubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. McIntosh S (2002) An introduction to equine-facilitated counselling. Self-published, Cremona, Alberta, CanadaGoogle Scholar
  43. Miller SC, Kennedy C, DeVoe D, Hickey M, Nelson T, Kogan L (2009) An examination of changes in oxytocin levels in men and women before and after interaction with a bonded dog. Anthrozoos 22:31–42Google Scholar
  44. Odendaal JSJ (2000) Animal-assisted therapy: magic or medicine? J Psychosom Res 49(4):275–280PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Palley LS, O’Rourke PP, Niemi SM (2010) Mainstreaming animal-assisted therapy. ILAR J 51(3): 199–207Google Scholar
  46. Pet Partners (2012) Pet Partners, Inc: overview. Accessed 20 July 2012
  47. Pet Access League Society (2012) Accessed 25 July 2012
  48. Pichot T, Coulter M (2007) Animal-assisted brief therapy: a solution-focused approach. The Haworth Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  49. Prothmann A, Bienert M, Ettrich C (2006) Dogs in psychotherapy: effects on state of mind. Anthrozoos 19(3):265–277CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Purdue University of Veterinary Medicine (2012). Purdue University school of veterinary medicine: centre for the human-animal bond. Accessed 10 July 2012
  51. Reichart E (1998) Individual counseling for sexually abused children: a role for animals and storytelling. Child Adolesc Soc Work J 15(3):177–185CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Relf PD (2006) Theoretical models for research and program development in agriculture and health care: avoiding random acts of research. In: Hassink J, van Dijk M (eds) Farming for health: green-care farming across Europe and the United States. Springer, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  53. Serpell J (1991) Preventing potential health hazards incidental to the use of pets in therapy. Anthrozoos 4:14–23Google Scholar
  54. Taylor SM (2001) Equine-facilitated psychotherapy: an emerging field. Unpublished master’s thesis, University of St. Michael’s College, ColchesterGoogle Scholar
  55. Thompson JR, Iacobucci V, Varney R (2012) Giddyup! or whoa Nelly! making sense of the benefit claims on websites of equine programs for children with disabilities. J Dev Phys Disabil 24(4):373–390CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. United States Department of Agriculture (2012). The United States Department of Agriculture. Accessed 14 June 2012
  57. Urichuk L, Anderson D (2003) Improving mental health through animal-assisted therapy. The Chimo Project, EdmontonGoogle Scholar
  58. Zamir T (2006) The moral basis of animal-assisted therapy. Soc Anim 14(2):179–199PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cole and Associates Counselling ServicesCalgaryCanada
  2. 2.TappenCanada

Personalised recommendations