Effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials

Complement Ther Med. 2014 Apr;22(2):371-90. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2013.12.016. Epub 2014 Jan 6.


The objectives of this review were to summarize the evidence from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) on the effects of animal-assisted therapy (AAT). Studies were eligible if they were RCTs. Studies included one treatment group in which AAT was applied. We searched the following databases from 1990 up to October 31, 2012: MEDLINE via PubMed, CINAHL, Web of Science, Ichushi Web, GHL, WPRIM, and PsycINFO. We also searched all Cochrane Database up to October 31, 2012. Eleven RCTs were identified, and seven studies were about "Mental and behavioral disorders". Types of animal intervention were dog, cat, dolphin, bird, cow, rabbit, ferret, and guinea pig. The RCTs conducted have been of relatively low quality. We could not perform meta-analysis because of heterogeneity. In a study environment limited to the people who like animals, AAT may be an effective treatment for mental and behavioral disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, and alcohol/drug addictions, and is based on a holistic approach through interaction with animals in nature. To most effectively assess the potential benefits for AAT, it will be important for further research to utilize and describe (1) RCT methodology when appropriate, (2) reasons for non-participation, (3) intervention dose, (4) adverse effects and withdrawals, and (5) cost.

Keywords: Animal-assisted therapy; Randomized controlled trials; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Assisted Therapy*
  • Animals
  • Cats
  • Dogs
  • Female
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Rabbits
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic