Health Benefits Of Human-Animal Interaction – Part 1

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People derive physiological and psychological benefits from interactions with animals. Animals can play a therapeutic and health-promoting role in a wide variety of human health conditions and in settings ranging from the community to primary, inpatient, and long-term health care. Human and veterinary health care providers need to be aware of the potential health benefits of human-animal interaction (HAI) and the important role that the human-animal bond may play in the health status of patients. This chapter outlines some of the therapeutic uses of animals and other psychosocial issues related to the human-animal bond.

Key Points for Clinicians and Public Health Professionals:

– Educate human health and veterinary clinicians about ways to maximize public health benefits of human-animal interaction (HAI).
– Support policies that encourage appropriate infection control and other safeguards for animal assisted therapy and other forms of HAI.
– Support developed environment enhancements that encourage physical activity for people and companion animals (e.g., parks, sidewalks, landscaping, traffic calming).



Human-animal interaction (HAI) is the term used to encompass the human-animal bonds developing from pet ownership, uses of animals for recreation (such as horseback riding), animal husbandry, and therapeutic settings. Perhaps the first therapeutic use of animals was Florence Nightingale’s introduction of birds as distractions for hospital patients in the mid-1800s. The practice of facilitating HAI for therapeutic purposes has expanded in recent years, in advance of consistent research-based evidence supporting the health benefits of HAI. Today, HAI is used in countless clinical settings and is generally believed to improve patient outcomes.
Animal-assisted activity (AAA) refers to relatively brief visits (usually lasting up to 1 hour) occurring in a variety of settings in which people talk to, pet, groom, offer treats to, and/or play with companion animals with the animal’s human handler present.
Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) refers to structured encounters in which the animal with its handler becomes part of a treatment plan for a particular patient. In this instance, the patient may walk with, reach out to, groom, or engage in various games with the animal, with all such activities designed to address particular functional deficits in the person. These activities may be included as goals in the patient’s plan of care. Thus the animal becomes an instrument through which a patient’s progress may be measured (e.g., a patient goal may be to daily increase the number of strokes brushing the dog using an impaired hand or arm). The most common situations in which AAT is used are in cerebrovascular accident or traumatic brain injury rehabilitation or in various behavioral and other psychotherapy contexts, such as with depressed adults, children who have been abused, or those with autism spectrum disorder.

For example, Service dogs are currently used in long-term patient-animal relationships for a variety of health care settings, both in institutional and home-based care.

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