The effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review

Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2023 Feb:50:101719. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2022.101719. Epub 2023 Jan 1.


Background: and purpose Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience difficulty with communication, learning, behaviour, and social interactions. Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is a growing alternative and complementary therapy for ASD. This review aims to investigate the effectiveness of AAT for children and adolescents with ASD in the domains of cognitive, social, emotional, behavioural, and physical.

Methods: A systematic search of databases (Medline, Emcare, Embase, Cochrane Library, PsycINFO, PsycARTICLES, Scopus, ERIC and OTseeker) was conducted in March 2022. Grey literature was also explored which included searching Trove database and the first 10 pages of Google, as well as pearling reference lists of included studies. This review followed the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) statement. The methodological quality of the included studies was assessed using a modified Joanna Briggs Institute Review Form for Randomised Controlled Trials. A descriptive synthesis was undertaken due to heterogeneity within the evidence base.

Results: Seven randomised controlled/clinical controlled trials with moderate methodological quality were included in this review. Overall, participation in AAT identified positive trends in the cognitive, social, emotional, behavioural, and physical domains. Despite the positive outcomes, implementation of AAT should be taken with caution as there are currently no standardised frameworks due to heterogeneity within the intervention protocols and outcome measures.

Conclusion: AAT may have positive effects across a multitude of outcomes in the management of ASD for children and adolescents. However, the current literature has considerable methodological concerns which should be addressed by future research.

Keywords: AAI; AAT; ASD; Animal-assisted intervention; Animal-assisted therapy; Autism spectrum disorder.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Assisted Therapy*
  • Animals
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / therapy
  • Child
  • Communication
  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care