How animal-assisted therapy benefits patient outcomes

How animal-assisted therapy benefits patient outcomes

There are many known benefits to using animals for therapy at a variety of facilities. The animals are often trained to be therapy dogs from a young age. Various therapy animal non-profits and groups typically work with healthcare facilities to implement programs.

Here are just a few of the benefits of therapy animals.

Improved sleep

When patients are stressed and dealing with overwhelming health issues it can be hard for them to sleep despite the efforts of family, friends, and nurses. A therapy dog can help patients relax and offer extra companionship during difficult times.

Reduce depression and anxiety

Spending time with a therapy dog is a great way to soothe anxiety. Petting, grooming, and just having the companionship offered by a dog is shown to reduce depression and anxiety levels significantly. It is important to remember that many patients have dogs and other pets that they cannot see while hospitalized or recovering from surgery and illness. Those that are used to having a companion animal do much better when they are given the opportunity during the course of their care.

Improve overall mood and morale

When patients are in a better mood and have a positive outlook, they heal and recover faster. Animal companions are shown to improve mood significantly. Faster patient recovery times mean reduced healthcare costs.

Encourage physical movement and decrease pain

Walking with a companion animal can encourage patients to expand their range of physical movement and get more exercise. Activities such as grooming help patients achieve physical therapy goals and improve dexterity.

Many patients report decreased pain levels after sessions with companion animals. While some of this is likely psychological, encouraging movement and reducing stress undoubtedly helps with pain levels.

Implementing animal-assisted therapy

Any animal-assisted therapy program must be well-planned. Nurse leaders need to work with the administration of facilities and other healthcare workers to establish rules and guidelines. Care must be taken to outline an effective infection prevention program.

Learning how to work with therapy animals is something that may be covered in an online accelerated nursing program. Holy Family University offers an excellent online program for aspiring nurses. By doing this program, it will help develop learners as holistically trained nurses with the knowledge and leadership skills to advance in the profession.

While therapy animals are well taken care of and clean, animal and patient interaction presents some infection risk, especially when a therapy dog handler is also present during sessions.

Some residential care facilities have animals that live on site.

Privately operated residential care facilities sometimes keep animals such as house cats. These animals live in common areas of care facilities and visit patients in rooms and common space alike. Residents become attached and consider these animals their pets. Overall mood and morale at such facilities tends to be much improved.


Therapy animals greatly improve patient outcomes and help patients maintain a positive outlook during difficult times. In the future, more facilities will likely take advantage of services offered by therapy dog programs in their area. Some providers may even work to start their own programs from the ground up.

Ayesha Butt
the authorAyesha Butt

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