The effect of pet therapy on the physiological and subjective stress response: A meta-analysis

Stress Health. 2018 Oct;34(4):477-489. doi: 10.1002/smi.2812. Epub 2018 Jun 8.


Studies have reported that exposure to pet therapy (PT) can reduce physiological and subjective stress and anxiety levels. The aim of this meta-analysis is to examine the efficacy of PT as a method for reducing physiological stress levels (blood pressure and heart rate) and subjective stress and anxiety scores (self-reported stress/anxiety). Further, we examined the effects of sample characteristics and modifications to the PT (different age groups and health status of participants across samples, whether a stressor was present, and individual versus group PT) as potential moderators of the relationship between PT and stress reactivity. Our searches incorporated articles published from May 2017 and earlier in PsycINFO, MEDLINE, and PubMed. This meta-analysis included 28 articles with 34 independent samples and contained a total of 1,310 participants. Using a random effects model, we determined that significant differences occurred in heart rate, self-reported anxiety, and self-reported stress after PT exposure compared with before PT. However, we did not detect significant differences in blood pressure after PT. Sample characteristics and modifications to the PT significantly moderated the effect of PT on stress responses. Our results suggest that PT can be an effective program for reducing stress reactivity.

Keywords: animal-assisted therapy; blood pressure; heart rate; pet therapy; stress.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Assisted Therapy / methods*
  • Anxiety / physiopathology*
  • Blood Pressure / physiology*
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy*