Pet Ownership and Physical Health

Robert L. Matchock


Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2015;28(5):386-392. 

In This Article

Quasi-experimental Studies

A comparison of dementia symptoms, from residents from four nursing homes that already had AAI employed (n = 20) to four other non-AAI nursing homes (n = 13), yielded no significant between-group or within-group differences, although there was a tendency for agitation and aggression scores to decrease and dementia scores to improve for the treatment group.[33] AAT in the form of a dog was found to decrease pain, fatigue, stress, anxiety, and improve various components of mood in 84 outpatients with fibromyalgia relative to 49 patients not exposed to AAT; although the study used a nonrandomized design with a convenience sample and self-selection to conditions.[34]

Nepps et al.[35] compared a 1-h AAT session with a dog to a 1-h stress management program session for 218 inpatients of a mental health unit in a pretest–posttest nonrandomized design. The AAT group experienced significant decreases in self-reported anxiety, pain, depression, and heart rate (HR), although these same improvements occurred in the control group. A single-group pretest–posttest design with 16 adults with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) found that 6 weekly 2-h sessions of equine-assisted therapy reduced symptoms of PTSD, emotional trauma, anxiety, alcohol use, and depression. Mindfulness increased, but physical health was unchanged.[36] Another single-group pretest–posttest design found that regular AAT with a dog decreased loneliness in 21 geriatric nursing home residents.[37]

Preliminary evidence indicates that AAT may help victims of child sexual abuse. One study[38] examined various physical symptoms in 153 children who had experienced sexual abuse. Three groups were compared (with no random assignment): a no dog standard therapy group, a dog group with no therapeutic stories, and a dog group that included therapeutic stories. Children paired with dogs, especially dogs with therapeutic stories, experienced significant decreases in anxiety, anger, depression, PTSD symptoms, dissociation, and sexual concerns. These data, too, suggest that AAT can be incorporated into more traditional forms of therapy, augmenting but not replacing existing therapies. Finally, other single-group or nonrandomized two-group designs have found improvements in autism spectrum disorder using equine therapy,[39] and exposure to guinea pigs,[40] whereas quality of life in patients with cancers of the head and neck have shown AAT-induced improvements.[41] Taken together, the above recent findings, albeit from nonexperimental designs, provide some promise for the use of pets in assisting with the negative symptoms of dementia, child sexual abuse, PTSD, autism, loneliness, fibromyalgia, quality of life in cancer patients, and overall mental health.