Patient benefit of dog-assisted interventions in health care: a systematic review

BMC Complement Altern Med. 2017 Jul 10;17(1):358. doi: 10.1186/s12906-017-1844-7.


Background: Dogs are the most common companion animal, and therefore not surprisingly a popular choice for animal-assisted interventions. Dog-assisted interventions are increasingly used in healthcare. The aim of the review was to conduct a systematic literature review of quantitative studies on dog-assisted interventions in healthcare, with the intention of assessing the effects and cost-effectiveness of the interventions for different categories of patients.

Methods: A systematic review of the scientific literature reporting results of studies in healthcare, nursing home or home care settings, was conducted. The inclusion criteria applied for this review were: quantitative studies, inclusion of at least 20 study subjects, existence of a control and performed in healthcare settings including nursing homes and home care. The electronic databases PubMed, AMED, CINAHL and Scopus were searched from their inception date through January 2017, for published articles from peer-reviewed journals with full text in English.

Results: Eighteen studies that fulfilled the inclusion criteria, and were judged to be of at least moderate quality, were included in the analysis. Three of them showed no effect. Fifteen showed at least one significant positive effect but in most studied outcome measures there was no significant treatment effect. Dog-assisted therapy had the greatest potential in treatment of psychiatric disorders among both young and adult patients. Dog-assisted activities had some positive effects on health, wellbeing, depression and quality of life for patients with severe cognitive disorders. Dog-assisted support had positive effects on stress and mood.

Conclusions: The overall assessment of the included studies indicates minor to moderate effects of dog-assisted therapy in psychiatric conditions, as well as for dog-assisted activities in cognitive disorders and for dog-assisted support in different types of medical interventions. However, the majority of studied outcome measures showed no significant effect.

Keywords: Animal-assisted therapy; Cost-benefit analysis; Dog-assisted activity; Dog-assisted intervention; Dog-assisted support; Dog-assisted therapy; Dogs; Outcome assessment (health care); Quality of life; Treatment outcome.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Animal Assisted Therapy*
  • Animals
  • Dogs*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Pets
  • Stress, Psychological