Pet therapy Evidence

safety

Routine veterinary screening of both resident and visiting companion animals is recommended for all nursing homes offering pet-assisted therapy.
There have been reports of pet therapy animals being carriers of disease organisms (bacteria, parasites) that have been transmitted to patients interacting with them. This is of special concern when the people interacting with the animals are immuno-compromised or otherwise more vulnerable to infection.
Some people have allergic reactions to some companion animals. This should be considered before the introduction of pet therapy, particularly in a setting where multiple people may be exposed.
Pet therapy should be avoided in patients with a fear of or traumatic history with animals.

evidence table

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
 
Quality of life (Grade: B)
Pet therapy may benefit both patients and caregiving staff in a hospice setting. In one study, the presence of a dog was found to encourage staff-patient interactions, ease patient-visitor relations, and improve staff and patient morale. The preferred interactions with the dog were those that had a relaxing or comforting effect on the human. Not all patients, however, may be interested in contact with an animal.
Alzheimer's dementia (Grade: C)
In the institutionalized elderly, there is evidence that pet therapy may reduce depression and blood pressure, reduce irritability, reduce agitation and increase social interaction. In Alzheimer's disease there is evidence that the presence of a companion animal may increase social behaviors such as smiles, laughs, looks, leans, touches, verbalizations, name-calling, or others. While suggestive, support for the use of pet therapy in Alzheimer's dementia remains preliminary. Further research is required.
Anxiety (invasive medical procedures) (Grade: C)
Evidence remains unclear as to the extent to which pet therapy may be of value in reducing anxiety in invasive medical procedures. Data from institutionalized psychiatric patients being treated with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) are similarly inconclusive. More studies are needed to determine the value of pet therapy in preparing people for invasive or unpleasant procedures.
Depression (invasive medical procedures) (Grade: C)
Evidence remains unclear as to the extent to which pet therapy may be of value in reducing depression in invasive medical procedures. More studies are needed to determine the value of pet therapy in preparing people for invasive or unpleasant procedures.
Hypertension (Grade: C)
Evidence from preliminary study indicates that pet ownership may have additive value in patients with hypertension who are taking conventional blood pressure medication; however, further research is necessary before any conclusion can be drawn.
Loneliness in the elderly (Grade: C)
Pet therapy has been shown to reduce loneliness and depression in residents of long-term care facilities, particularly in people with a prior history of pet ownership. The presence of a pet has also been found to lead to increased verbal interactions among residents. While promising, research remains insufficient upon which to base recommendations. Further study is required.
Mental illness (Grade: C)
Preliminary evidence indicates that the presence of a pet dog among psychiatric inpatients promotes social interactions. In people with schizophrenia, there is evidence that pet therapy may lead to improved interest in rewarding activities as well as better use of leisure time and improved motivation. There is also evidence of improvement in socialization skills, independent living, and general well-being. While suggestive, additional research remains necessary.
Nutrition in Alzheimer's patients (Grade: C)
Evidence from limited study had indicated that animal-assisted therapy in the form of a fish aquarium in an institutional care facility for people with Alzheimer's disease may improve nutritional intake, improve weight gain, and reduce the need for nutritional supplementation. However, research remains preliminary. Further study is required.
Pain (pediatric) (Grade: C)
Based on preliminary study, canine visitation therapy (CVT) may be an effective adjunct to traditional pain management for children. However, additional study is necessary before a conclusion may be drawn.